We’ve never seen anything quite like this economy. After a year of gradual decline beginning with the onset of the subprime mortgage crisis in 2007, the speed with which the financial curtains came crashing down in mid-September was startling—and downright frightening.
Meltdown isn’t quite strong enough to describe all that has happened in recent months. Hundreds of billions of dollars and once-prestigious financial institutions—gone, vanished into thin air. An election that was supposed to be about Iraq became all about “the economy, stupid.” Federal takeovers and massive bailout packages—the likes of which we never dreamed—once anathema, now commonplace.
“I still do not understand exactly how it happened,” said former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to Congress. Not exactly reassuring.
We’re all looking for a silver lining in this cloudy economy. The current crisis, while painful in the short term, must be viewed as an opportunity to take a long-term look at our businesses. This crisis won’t last forever, and the “winners,” once the dust has settled, will be those businesses that demonstrate they are able to adapt to changing conditions and continue to provide innovation and value to their customers. In the end, what has happened to the economy will be good for us—making us more competitive and spurring us to solve our most vexing long-term problems.
And there are plenty of those waiting for the new president. The good thing is that there finally appears to be an appetite to tackle some of these issues—rising healthcare costs, energy independence, an inadequate education system, deteriorating infrastructure— that we’ve been putting off for decades.
A recent article in Time magazine pointed out “a few bright spots for job seekers,” singling out the fields of healthcare and energy as “recession-proof industries.” Of course, the strength of our local medical community is well known and of tremendous importance to the local economy. And when it comes to energy, we have a few ideas there as well. The September issue of this magazine focused on sustainability, highlighting a variety of key area initiatives in this regard. Last month, the Midwest Energy Solutions Summit was held in Peoria, showcasing Midwest energy sources and emerging technologies that can help lead the way to energy independence and retool our economy for the 21st century.
We’ve also got a team of economic development professionals working hard—and working together—to keep central Illinois competitive and attractive to business investment. You will read some of their stories in this issue. Increasingly, we’re all in this together, and it’s encouraging to see a regional, collaborative approach taken to economic development initiatives.
2009 may prove to be a challenging year, but it’s also an opportunity to refocus on what really matters. We’ll come out of this downturn stronger for our efforts.