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B-N Economy Is Rising, Though Labor Force Still Scant

Patrick Hoban B-N By The Numbers Rivian
Emily Bollinger
Patrick Hoban addressed a gathering at the B-N By The Numbers event Thursday at Hansen Student Center in Bloomington.

The head of Bloomington-Normal's economic development agency said during a community briefing the economy is surging.

Economic Development Council Director Patrick Hoban said during the quarterly BN By The Numbers event a labor shortage remains, but economic activity boomed as the pandemic eased.

"Our retail sales for 2021 completely spiked. The sales tax coming back to McLean County is normally between $300,000 and $400,000. In April we hit $600,000. People are really getting out and about," said Hoban.

Hoban said commercial construction permits are on pace with last year.

"The total in 2020 was 172 different commercial permits. This year we are already at 117. Investment-wise, though, 2020 was massive. A lot of that was Rivian. As a total we did $290 million in investment. This year we're about a third of that so far. But this is still phenomenal," said Hoban.

Overhead view of people seated at tables for conference.
Emily Bollinger
The restaurant sector remains short of labor in the McLean County area, according to EDC head Patrick Hoban.

He said there may be several more substantial projects yet this year. The Economic Development Council continues to field a lot of development inquiries as the pandemic eases — 63 so far this year, Hoban said. He said if some of those firm up, they could be game changers for Bloomington-Normal.

The number of unemployed in the community has dropped by 7,000 people from a year ago.

"2020 was kind of a time warp. The unemployment count was around 10,000 people. Right now it's around 3,000. Our employment as well — our employment is up, but it is a little bit flat. We're still not quite at the level of pre-pandemic for this time of year," said Hoban.

Not all of those who are not working are listed as unemployed. Some have chosen not to re-enter the workforce.

"We have had some places I tried to go to for lunch and they were not open that day because they did not have enough workers to come to work. Retail and hospitality are sectors that are really suffering from this right now," said Hoban.

Hoban said the labor force is rising, though.

"In 2020 it was at 82,900. Now we're at 87,300, but we're still not at what we were before the pandemic," said Hoban.

Past peak employment periods in the Bloomington Normal area have been between 90,000 and 92,000 people with jobs.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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