Economic Diversity Helping in Peoria

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PEORIA, Illinois -- President Barack Obama takes his economic town hall to Peoria, Illinois today. The community recently received a blow by massive layoffs at Caterpillar, whose company headquarters are located here.

CBN News recently visited Peoria to see how the economy has affected the city and its people.

Scott Carlson graduated from Illinois State University last December. He was ready to take on the world.

"I'm willing to hear any body's offer, especially right now," he said. "But there aren't a whole lot of takers."

The companies that Carlson once considered as safe, long-term employers are no longer hiring or even worse, they are laying off workers.

"It's a tough situation, and there are some people that are scared," said Mayor Jim Ardis. "How soon is the economy going to come back? When do we think we will be able to attract more jobs?"

Layoffs at Caterpillar

Peoria fell into economic realities last month when Caterpillar announced it was laying off 20,000 workers company wide, including more than 2,000 in Illinois.

As strong economic headwinds continue in 2009, more layoffs are on the way.

"We believe the global economic growth for the world's economies will be the slowest in 60-plus years," Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan told CBN News.

The lines for free food at Peoria's South Side Mission are longer these days. A lot of the faces are new.

"In the past year, we're starting to see a lot of middle class folks coming to our food pantry," said Director Phil Newton. "This economy has removed people's wiggle room."

"Middle class folks are in danger of becoming working class folks, working class folks are in danger of becoming working poor," Newton explained.

Times are tough, but in many ways Peoria is in better shape than other communities.

Community Learned From The Past

Peoria has been frozen by tough economic times before, but the community learned from its mistakes. The economy here is now more diverse making it easier to navigate the icy economic waters.

"Most of them didn't get over their heads with their mortgage," Ardis said. "Most of them lived within their means with the credit that they have."

Companies like Caterpillar will likely benefit from President Obama's plan to invest in infrastructure projects as orders for equipment increase.

The city isn't waiting for a stimulus check though. It is forging ahead with a $110 million hotel project with hopes the nation's economic crisis will be over by time its completed.

Meanwhile, Carlson's college loan bills are stacking up.

"Right now, I'm definitely needing the money. I got to start figuring out something quick.

He's just one of many folks that will guarantee the president a captive audience during his visit.

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