Scharlau: County doing well by many metrics

Scharlau: County doing well by many metrics

CHAMPAIGN — As he takes his annual stock of Champaign County's economy, Busey Bank Vice Chairman Ed Scharlau finds a lot is looking pretty rosy around here.

Even sagging farm prices and the state budget impasse can't drag down all the positives.

To name just one, Champaign County has now surpassed several neighboring counties in population to become 10th-largest in the state, Scharlau said.

He's also upbeat about University of Illinois student enrollment that has been on the rise and is likely to grow again next fall, a steadily growing health care employer payroll and housing sales that hit a high last year that hasn't been seen since 2007.

"I think if you're going to live in downstate Illinois, there's probably no better place than Champaign County," Scharlau said.

Scharlau was set to deliver his annual state-of-the-local-economy talk this morning to an expected crowd of 500 people who signed up for Busey's 64th Economic Seminar, being held at the I Hotel & Conference Center in Champaign.

At a preview earlier this week, he talked about what Champaign County's 2015 population of 208,861 — an increase of 1,728 people over the previous year — means stacked up against the rest of Illinois.

Champaign County now out-populates such nearby counties as Sangamon, McLean, Macon and Vermilion, Scharlau said. Of Illinois' 102 counties, 85 of them shrank last year, and only four added more than 1,000 people.

Three of those four counties were in Chicagoland and one was downstate, and it was Champaign County, Scharlau said, "which I think is pretty significant."

Where are new residents coming from? Scharlau said he thinks it's research and technology jobs that bring people here. Not necessarily big employers, he said, but lots of small ones, each employing just a handful of people.

One of the other bright spots Scharlau plans to bring up is a steadily growing payroll for local health care providers, which together, he called Champaign County's second-largest employer. Their combined estimated payroll was $696 million this year, and that's $98 million higher than two years ago.

Scharlau is also high on UI enrollment, which he said rose in 2015 by 484 students. Busey estimates it will rise again next fall, based on the number of applicants far outnumbering openings, Scharlau said. Plus, he said, the UI continues to do more building, with 12 construction projects underway valued at $427 million.

As for those strong home sales, he said, home and condo sales rose 3.96 percent last year over the previous year, and mortgage lending rates continue to be favorable for home-buying.

New home construction is holding steady, Scharlau said. With 172 new homes built in Champaign last year, the city was tops in new housing starts, followed by Mahomet, which Scharlau said was "like a boom town. They had 90 new homes last year."

Third-highest in the county was Savoy, with 62 new homes built last year, he said.

One not-so-bright spot in the local economy has been agriculture, Scharlau said. Busey Ag Services attributes the drop in 2016 agriculture revenues to lower crop prices and yields, he said.

The outlook for corn this year is 179 bushels an acre, compared with 189 last year, and the projection for beans is 54 bushels an acre, compared with 64 last year.

Champaign County farmland values dropped from 7 to 8 percent last year, and values this year will be impacted by grain prices, Scharlau said.

Yet another not-so-bright spot to keep in mind is the fact that there are still many people out of work and looking for jobs, with the state budget impasse continuing to create employment challenges, he said.

Champaign County's February unemployment rate of 6.1 percent was higher than the previous February (5.3 percent) but is still one of the lower rates in the state, he said.

The state of the county

Among the Champaign County figures those who attend Busey's 64th economic seminar this morning are likely to hear:

$366 million: Agricultural output for 2015. That's projected to drop to $332 million this year due to expected lower crop prices and yields.

$19 million: How much the University of Illinois payroll grew (to $965 million) in 2015.

$2.739 billion: Total retail sales for 2015, up just a half-percent over the previous year due to lower gasoline prices.

2,780: How many homes were sold last year, a boost of 106 over the previous year.

7,151: Total new cars registered in 2015, with 15 cents of every dollar spent in Champaign County going to purchase or service cars.

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David Green wrote on April 21, 2016 at 7:04 am

As long as you don't consider the poor, the unemployed, and struggling families, Champaign County is doing just fine. Scharlau 's annual report is for the local 1%, not for the rest of us. As long as half the people are struggling, they're doing just fine.

Reykjavik wrote on April 21, 2016 at 9:04 am

It is heartening to hear that the county is doing well.  The social and economic diversity in this county are huge assets.

One merely has to drive to any county around here to get a sense of the strength of Champaign County.  We are also indirectly support the neighboring bedroom counties. Counties in southern Illinois are in desperate shape, with no prospects.