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Olson: Waiting for recovery to reach DeKalb County

Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 2)

There sure was a lot of good economic news this week about a recovery that looks to finally be taking hold.

But you can be forgiven for not noticing how much better things are here in DeKalb County.

The Great Recession officially ended in 2009. Since then, Wall Street has rallied. We’ve seen the Dow Jones Industrial Average rebound more than 125 percent – it crossed 15,000 on Friday. The broader Standard and Poor’s 500 index crossed 1,600 for the first time in 13 years this week.

That’s good news if you have a 401(k) account or otherwise invest in the stock market. If you don’t, or can’t afford to, they’re just numbers.

Nationally, home sales data have been positive, with reports showing that there are actually more buyers than sellers. There have been reports of price increases for houses and even talk of another bubble growing in some markets.

Those markets aren’t here in Illinois, where the backlog of foreclosures that have swamped the judicial system still leaves us with a substantial shadow inventory of homes. There are also many people who might want to sell their homes but can’t because they are so far underwater on their mortgages.

According to a report this week, home prices for the Chicago market, which includes DeKalb County, were up 5.1 percent in February over a year ago, putting it 19th of the 20 markets tracked by the S&P/Case Shiller Index.

The exciting news is that we might finally have “hit bottom,” but still it seems the only thing local homeowners can really count on to increase are their property tax bills.

Gas prices have fallen nationally, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report released this week. The national average is $3.52 a gallon.

But here in Illinois, they’re higher, thanks to the recent flooding  – at least, that’s the excuse du jour. The average here: $3.95 a gallon – although thankfully, it’s a little cheaper on DeKalb Avenue or Sycamore Road.

The national unemployment rate – not counting people who have given up looking for work – is at 7.5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But in DeKalb County it was 8.9 percent in March, according to the latest numbers from the Illinois Department of Employment Security. That was actually higher than during the same period a year ago, even though the local labor force shrunk.

In today’s newspaper we reported on the planned closure of a manufacturing plant that will cost 75 jobs. The company, Ohio-based Commercial Vehicle Group, decided to close its Illinois plant and move the work to existing shops in Iowa.

We also reported this week that consumers are more optimistic, a good sign considering that consumer spending drives 70 percent of the national economy.

In light of how much the local results seem to lag the national picture, how much more optimistic can we really be?

Ready to go: The Great Recession was brutal, and we were eager for the big bounce-back that usually follows a recession years ago.

Instead, we got a “jobless recovery,” which is kind of like fat-free ice cream – it looks good, but it’s hardly satisfying.

It’s time we see some results here in Illinois, and in DeKalb County, instead of just reading about them elsewhere. Maybe if our state’s legislators can ever come up with a resolution to the state’s pension crisis, they’ll look at what other states are doing to get in on this wave of recovery and help us join.

Maybe.

Lagging, not lost: Look, we really messed things up in the last decade.

Blame whomever you like for it, the fact is people borrowed more money than they could ever hope to repay; businesses took risks they couldn’t afford to cover. When it came crashing down, there was a tremendous mess to clean up.

Experts told us it wouldn’t be neatly sorted out in a year or two, and true enough, it still hasn’t been sorted out today.

But we will get there, even here in Illinois.

Things are never as good or as bad as they seem. Although the CVG plant is closing in DeKalb, we also reported this week that Japan-based Nippon Sharyo Manufacturing is expanding its rail car operation in Rochelle, a move that will add 100 jobs to the area.

It’s not in DeKalb County, but it’s not far, either. Will all of the people who work at CVG catch on at Nippon? No. But there are opportunities.

Even our state’s dysfunctional government is showing signs of progress on a solution to the pension crisis that is bleeding our state dry, the first major hurdle to getting us on the road to recovery.

Change appears to be coming. If better fortune hasn’t found you yet, hang in there. Nobody ever made money betting against America in the long term. Don’t expect that to change now.

All quiet: Am I the only one wondering whether we’ll ever hear another word about that FBI search of the Northern Illinois University police station?

The search happened almost two months ago, and there’s been nary a word spoken about it since.

Federal investigators carted away seven years’ worth of records in a search that took all day.

The federal search warrant explicitly named two people – former NIU Police Chief Donald Grady and Eddie Williams, the executive vice president of facilities and finance and chief of operations.

The warrant explicitly sought any communication between the two related to background checks and criminal history for prospective tenants at Eden’s Gardens, a low-income housing development in DeKalb that Williams owns.

Grady has been fired, and Williams remains on paid leave from his $303,684-a-year position. Wiliams has said through a spokesperson that he has no idea why the FBI made him a target.

NIU spokesman Paul Palian says there’s no timeline for Williams’ return to his job.

The university appears to be moving ahead to get things done in his absence, though. This week, NIU named Michael Mann assistant vice president of Budgeting and Finance.

The final chapter of this story has yet to be written.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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