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Perry County ushered in 2009 last week amid toasts and cheers. Most of us greet each new year with optimism and high hopes for ourselves and our families. But as the first full work week of 2009 dawns, nearly all of us know the year ahead will be challenging. But underlying the current difficulties are opportunities.
First, the obvious. The national recession shows no signs of letting up and may worsen. Several local companies are shedding jobs and others are reducing workers' hours. Paychecks are shrinking. Gasoline prices may be less than half of what they once were, but the cost of supporting a family remains harshly expensive.
News last week that Swiss Plywood had closed its doors may not have been a shock to those familiar with the domestic furniture industry, but it was still an economic and psychological blow. It was only a generation ago that the vast majority of Americans' kitchen tables, bedroom furniture and sofas were made here at home. Now, much of it arrives overseas and American companies that used to thrive and employ thousands are going out of business.
In Perry County, woodworking was once the industry. That's not the case today.
The challenges ahead go beyond workers and families. Local governments face financial challenges in 2009 and beyond with uncertain state funding and new limits on property taxes. Services we have come to expect are becoming more expensive and cities and towns face tough decisions. Cuts to payrolls and services may have to be made.
Falling home prices, while not decreasing here as quickly or dramatically as they have in larger communities, have reduced or even eliminated the equity many families looked on as a financial safety net. Foreclosures are still happening and, sadly, more families will lose their homes in 2009.
But there are opportunities amid the challenges and the year ahead is a chance to tout our communities' strengths. Local banks are strong and continue to make loans to smart customers who know now may be a great time to buy, build or remodel a home.
Opportunities exist for workers to widen their skills through continuing education and offerings such as the service-skills program offered by the Community Learning Center of Perry County. Ivy Tech's Tell City campus offers adults opportunities to prepare for skills in high-demand areas such as nursing. Colleges within easy commuting distance also offer classes.
Another opportunity is local tourism. Officials are working on a strategic plan to draw more visitors to our county with hopes of securing a visitors center and maybe even a lodge. With more vacationing families staying closer to home, our area's natural beauty and opportunities for fishing, camping and hunting will be more important than ever.
In a guest column on this page a few weeks ago, Perry County Development Corp. Executive Director Chris Kinnett outlined steps all of us can take to help our community weather the tough economic times. His suggestions: promote our hometowns and stay positive. "We need to work closely with our current businesses, giving a boost where we can to those who need a little assistance and work to identify potential avenues for additional products and services for our local companies. We need to think buy local," he wrote.
Shopping at home whenever possible will help our local economy and keep dollars circulating here, where they're needed most.
Our local economy is far more diversified than major recessions of the past. Service-related employers and diversified automotive companies, while not immune to recessions, aren't always as affected by downturns in other areas of the national economy.
Despite the challenges at our door, we're optimistic about the new year and the opportunities the 12 months ahead hold for all of us.
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