Recovery Like a Slingshot
March 9, 2010 12:31 PM
Every month I meet with a team of city managers I put together a year ago to review how our local economy is doing in this deep recession. We review a battery of statistics, share insights and intelligence from a variety of sources and talk about what we can do as a city government to hasten the recovery.
This Sunday's State Journal contained a very well researched story by Judy Newman, which contains most of the kind of information we receive at our meetings: http://host.madison.com/wsj/business/article_b1325a7a-2929-11df-85ff-001cc4c002e0.html. The gist of it is that there's a growing consensus that the economy hit bottom last summer and that a slow (and we hope steady and sustained) recovery is starting to take hold. Unemployment hit 6.3% in Dane County in June, but was cut to 5.4% by December (our numbers for Madison show 5.1%). While that's good news in the context of the last couple of years, unemployment here is still almost twice what it is in normal times.
Similarly, Dane County housing starts for the first couple of months this year are up about twice what they were last year at this time. Again, a good trend but still far less than half what they were in better times just a few years ago.
For us here in Madison, we need to keep a couple of things in mind. First, we should feel fortunate that our local economy, while still hurting, hasn't hit the depths of much of the rest of Wisconsin or the nation as a whole. And second, we need to stay on task to keep the recovery coming. Not just that, but we don't want to settle for a painfully slow return to prosperity. We want our recovery to pick up steam over time. That means we need to use the downturn as a slingshot to make us face up to our weaknesses and improve where we need to, take stock of our strengths and encourage them to grow, and rebuild our economy on a stronger and more sustainable footing than the mostly faux prosperity of the past. I've already started working on my state of the city address, due next month. The focus of that presentation will be on those themes.