Lingering Economic Woes Stand in the Way of Recovery
Despite a report that says the Great Recession ended a year ago, Highland Park still shows signs of trouble.
It takes little more than a short stroll down Central Ave. to see that the faltering economy continues to cause problems in Highland Park.
The wide glass window that once welcomed customers into Borders now taunts residents with its view of bare walls and empty shelves. "For Sale" signs sit in front of lakefront houses for so long they might as well be lawn ornaments.
Sales tax revenue is down 11 percent from 2008 to 2009, and real estate transfer tax revenue is down 33 percent.
So Highland Park residents might be surprised to hear the recession is actually over, and has been for over a year.
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) announced that the recession ended in June of 2009. Considered the authority on U.S. recessions, NBER said that this past recession – the longest since the Great Depression – was over because of evidence that the economy was beginning to grow again.
Eve Tarm, a Highland Park resident and Coldwell Banker real estate agent, disagreed.
"I see housing prices in our area still depreciating," she said.
Tarm blames the 9.5 percent unemployment rate for preventing housing prices from returning to the levels they were at before the recession.
"I hear from potential clients that the uncertainty of the labor market really affects whether they want to make any decisions about their buying another home," Tarm said.
And things are getting worse.
"There are about six lakefront properties here on Sheridan Rd. that are for sale. For a very long time the highest end was holding tight," she explained. "Now you see that there are big price drops in top level homes."
City Manager David Limardi sees things a bit differently.
"I don't think there's been a recession," Limardi said at a recent neighborhood meeting. "I think we're in a total reset."
Limardi said he wasn't sure if the economy would ever return to where it was before the recession. Consequently, he said communities have started stressing efficiency.
"Some communities are taking their ambulances out of the fire stations and putting them where the majority of the calls are," he said as an example. "We have to look at different ways of doing the same services in a more cost effective way because it's difficult and I don't know that it's going to get a lot better."
Other residents, on the other hand, think things are already looking up.
"This recovery is going quicker than anyone would have anticipated," said Joe Bertoni, a financial adviser at Edward Jones, an international investing firm with an office in Port Clinton Square.
Citing the gross domestic product's (GDP) past four consecutive quarters of growth, Bertoni explained that the recovery was on track and that things are continuing to improve.
"We will return to prosperity," he said.
Perhaps that return has already begun. There have been three ribbon cuttings in Highland Park for business openings in the past month, and the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce is on track to gain 100 new members this year.
"People are finding ways to make it work right now," said Chamber of Commerce Membership Director Kim Loprest. "We've grown more than we lost."
Recession, recovery, or rest, one thing is certain. In this scaled back economic period, adaptability is key. Tarm said homeowners are slashing prices to make sales, and Bartoni said lower interest rates are easing people back into investing.
"We're going to start a new paradigm here in terms of how things are done in all phases of our lives, both private sector and public sector," Limardi said. "We can't just rely on the same old ways of doing things."