How's the downturn playing in Peoria, Illinois?

By : James B. Kelleher - Analysis
Date posted :2009-08-20 19:56:00

PEORIA, Illinois (Reuters) - Peoria's main employer, Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N), has laid off, bought out or retired about 34,000 workers globally over the past year as demand for its earth-moving equipment declined along with economic growth.

Yet the city, three hours south of Chicago, is not suffering the same fate as other manufacturing towns in the U.S. "Rust Belt", like Detroit and Elkhart, Indiana, which have been hit hard along with their leading employers.

Peoria's unemployment rate in June was 9.6 percent, compared with the 16.8 percent rate in Elkhart, capital of the U.S. motor home industry, and 14.9 percent rate in Detroit, where the auto industry has had to scratch and claw to survive.

With a population of 370,000 in greater Peoria and 113,000 in the actual city of Peoria, this piece of the heartland looks nothing like it did in the 1980s when it was blindsided by another big downturn and the local unemployment rate reached 18.9 percent.

House prices here have remained remarkably stable. In June, the median price was $130,500, up 7.9 percent over two years.

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