Survey says: Local economy looking up
CHAMPAIGN — Folks attending Busey Bank's economic seminar Wednesday were more optimistic about the local economy than they were about the stock market, a survey shows.
The survey, distributed to the 600 or so in attendance, found they expect:
— Retail sales in Champaign County to total $2.8 billion this year, up 5.8 percent from 2013.
— New single-family home starts in Champaign, Urbana and Savoy to total 225 this year, up 11.4 percent from 2013.
— The inflation rate to average 2.05 percent this year, up from 1.5 percent in 2013.
But they expect the Dow Jones Industrial Average of 30 major stocks to total only 16,760 by the end of the year, up just 1.1 percent from the end of 2013.
In guessing retail sales and housing starts, attendees were even more upbeat than featured speaker Ed Scharlau, the bank's vice chairman, who forecast retail sales of $2.7 billion and 220 new home starts.
On Wednesday, Scharlau recognized Brenda Timmons, chief financial officer of The Atkins Group, as "Economist of the Year" for making the most accurate forecast at last year's seminar.
Also at the seminar, University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise introduced a five-minute video, "Envisioning Our Micro-Urban Future," that summarized what some area residents dream of Champaign-Urbana being like in 25 years or so. The descriptions were drawn from interviews with residents about what kind of community they want to see.
The video — a follow-up to one made four years ago — described a community with strong neighborhoods anchored with specialty grocery stores, general stores and "health-and-wellness centers." The community would be served by both long-distance high-speed rail and a local light-rail system and would have seven-minute average commutes, down from today's average of 14 minutes.
The Champaign-Urbana of tomorrow was pictured as a place where many people work from home but also get together to collaborate. It's a place that has minor league baseball and rooftop gardens and sees the University of Illinois as its "benchmark, touchstone and shared treasure."
Some folks interviewed said they dream of a community with zero unemployment, zero pollution and zero illiteracy.
Wise said when she first saw the video, she wondered whether it was unrealistic to aim for zero poverty.
"Can't we say a little bit of poverty?" she said.
But Wise also stressed that Champaign-Urbana is in a better position to tackle its problems than larger cities are.
She said Champaign-Urbana is "not a tanker, but a sailboat that can change with the wind" when the university and community work well in partnership.
Wise said she was told by Mike Ross, director of the UI's Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, that Champaign County has 300 homeless children.
"If we put our minds and hearts together, we can make it zero," she said.
That's an example of something Champaign County can do that cities the size of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles cannot, she said.
The "Envisioning Our Micro-Urban Future" video is available for viewing on the website http://www.micro-urban.com.