Has the economy recovered since the Great Recession?
The answer will differ depending on who answers the question.
Although officials cite a number of indicators pointing to an economic recovery in Kane County, they say some aspects of the recession will have a lasting impact.
“The economy’s not perfect, but we’re certainly better off than we were in [2008, 2009] and through 2012,” said Don Cummings, founder of Geneva-based investment management firm Blue Haven Capital LLC and a Geneva alderman.
Cummings was part of a panel at the Economic Forecast 2015 event in January in St. Charles and hosted by the Kane County Chronicle.
Cummings said many signs point to an economic recovery, including a gradual increase in interest rates, a decrease in the unemployment rate, an increase in the number of houses sold and an increase in the average selling price.
The suburban Chicago housing market posted a 12.8 percent increase in the number of homes sold in the region in April compared to the same time in 2014, according to the MainStreet Organization of Realtors.
The median price of single-family detached homes was up 9.6 percent compared to the same period last year, according to the organization.
Kane County in April had an unemployment rate slightly lower than state and national rates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The county posted a nonseasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.8 percent in May, while the nonadjusted rates showed Illinois at 5.6 percent and the nation at 5.3 percent, according to the bureau.
“I continue to be cautiously optimistic about the economy,” Cummings said.
Commercial real estate transactions also have seen an uptick in the past few years, said Neil Johnson, managing director/broker for Geneva-based Sperry Van Ness/Landmark Commercial Real Estate LLC.
“We’re writing contracts and leases at a pace we haven’t seen for a long time,” Johnson said.
The improvement holds true across different sectors, including industrial, retail and office properties, he said.
Sperry Van Ness/Landmark was able to secure two new retail tenants in adjacent, previously vacant spaces – Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop, 301 W. Main St., and The Finery & Blacksmith Bar, 305 W. Main St., both in downtown St. Charles, Johnson said.
But he did indicate the appeal and success of individual properties vary on a case-by-case basis.
For example, Sperry Van Ness/Landmark has two multi-tenant office buildings totaling 30,587 square feet on Cardinal Drive on the west side of St. Charles under contract for purchase, Johnson said. The property was desirable because it was in great condition, had a 95 percent occupancy rate when put under contract and was conservatively priced at $3.4 million, he said.
“Not everything is getting the same attention,” Johnson said. “There are office and retail properties that have been on the market for well over a year and have not sold or leased.”
Investors are particular, and they remain cautious, doing a careful review of properties they are considering before moving forward, Johnson said.
Public officials observed an increased vigilance in consumers who preferred not to raise their taxes for various referendums in Kane County.
St. Charles School District 303 Board member Corinne Pierog knocked on hundreds of doors and talked to many residents between 2011 and 2014 for her run at state Senate and to drum up support for the Show You Care Kane referendum.
Pierog heard resident feedback that included the perception that governmental bodies overspend and there’s an unwillingness to pay more taxes because of already-high property taxes in Kane County. Residents’ financial situations also varied – some are on a fixed income, and others are emerging from underwater mortgages, she said.
“What I did sense and what I did hear was extreme financial caution, which is still what the consumer is feeling right now,” Pierog said.
During the more recent April 7 consolidated general election, about 75 percent of voters in the St. Charles Park District rejected the district’s $28 million referendum proposal.
Jeff Greenwald, the district’s superintendent of recreation, cited the economic downturn as a reason for the referendum’s failure.
“People are still hurting with the economy recovery … it’s a strong memory,” Greenwald previously said in April after the election. “People lost home equity and retirement savings.”
Organizers at area food pantries said they have seen an ongoing need for assistance from residents.
The food pantry at The Salvation Army Tri-City Corps in St. Charles distributed 824 bags of food in May, up from 791 during the same time last year, said Belen Hood, director of the facility.
But at least one area service, the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry, has seen a decrease in families served since 2008. The total number of people served dropped 6 percent in 2014, and the average this year is 320 families served, or 1,100 people, said Linda Dahms, the pantry’s director.
Although 70 percent of the pantry’s users have some type of employment, they still qualify for services and need help with groceries, Dahms said.
‘You have to adapt’
When Susan Arnold arrived to the family’s home in Wayne one afternoon in April 2013, she was surprised to see her husband, Jeff Arnold, still wearing his suit jacket.
Arnold, 60, had been busy sending emails and reaching out to contacts. His contract wasn’t renewed that year, and he was out of a job.
“On that very first day, I wanted to get started [job searching] right away,” Arnold said. “I knew it was going to be a marathon; it wasn’t going to be a sprint.”
Arnold was the CEO and executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors, as well as its for-profit arm AEI and the society’s foundation.
He knew he was not likely to find another similar full-time position, but he kept on searching, applying and interviewing. One company told him he was the runner-up for a position; another said he was one of six finalists out of an applicant pool of 138 people. In both cases, the offer ended up going to someone else.
“I’m not going to lie and say you don’t get despondent … but I thought, ‘I got to keep on moving,’” Arnold said.
By the end of 2013, Arnold had started up Arnold Consulting Solutions and acquired two clients while searching for a full-time position.
Arnold said he received three months of severance and qualified for unemployment benefits. He used the unemployment funds to pay for COBRA continuing health coverage, but those benefits stopped on Jan. 1, 2014.
As the months turned into a year, then a year and six months, Arnold felt the pressure increase. Through networking, he heard about an opening at the Delta Mu Delta International Honorary Business Society in Brookfield.
Arnold finally received an offer in December 2014 to become the society’s executive director. Since the position is only 32 hours a week, the society’s officials encouraged Arnold to continue developing his consulting business when he’s not in the office.
Arnold works on his consulting enterprise out of his home or in a workspace at the Batavia Public Library. He is often in Batavia for Batavia Chamber of Commerce events and also for the Talk of the Town Toastmaster’s Club, of which he is currently president.
Even with all he has endured, Arnold said he is not bitter but appreciative to be working. He said he enjoys the flexible schedule that his new role provides.
In between his responsibilities, Arnold also is helping different people he knows across the Chicago suburbs with their job searches as a way to give back. He credits his faith, family and friends for getting him through the tough times.
“You have to adapt ... maybe you won’t be in the same position that you were previously,” Arnold said.
OUTBOX: Closer Look
The Kane County Chronicle is taking a closer look at life after the Great Recession. This is part one of a two-part series.
TODAY: A look at how the local economy has fared since 2008.
SATURDAY: A look at resources for people who have lost their jobs.
On the webTo view a video of Jeff Arnold talking about his extended job search, visit KCChronicle.com.