Reflections on 2011

Brian Brown, ReporterIt seems only natural this time of year to have one eye on the past while the other eye looks ahead.

It’s no secret the past couple of years have been difficult for many Springfield area businesses, and the question that everyone seems to want to have answered is, “When are things going to turn around?”

In the Dec. 19 print edition of Springfield Business Journal, I reported about a recent increase in local merger and acquisition activity, which seems to indicate that some lenders are ready to lend, and those looking to grow their operations are in a buying mood.

Another hopeful sign: consumer spending appears to be turning a corner.

On Dec. 15, the National Retail Federation revised its holiday forecast upward, expecting holiday sales to rise 3.8 percent this year to a record $469.1 billion.

The forecast revision comes on the heels of retail industry sales for November increasing by 4.5 percent compared to November 2010. Also, NRF’s most recent holiday survey found that the average American has completed far less of their holiday shopping than in previous years. That seems to suggest that many shoppers bought gifts for themselves last month and still have plenty of presents left to buy.

NRF’s initial forecast, announced on October 6, called for sales growth of 2.8 percent compared to the 2010 holiday season. While a 3.8 percent sales increase is considerably above the ten-year average sales increase of 2.6 percent, it is still below the 5.2 percent increase the retail industry saw last year. In case you were wondering, sales for the 2010 season roughly equaled sales from 2007.

This year, we saw quite a few signs of local progress. Hy-Vee opened its 80,000-square-foot grocery store in October. Academy Sports entered the market, too. Bass Pro Shops seems to have made up ground on the mammoth Wonders of Wildlife project. The Missouri Department of Transportation completed the six-lane project on Highway 65 as well as the $57 million interchange.

Of course, it’s hard to think about 2011 in southwest Missouri without mentioning the May 22 EF-5 tornado in Joplin. I’ll never forget working that week and seeing the news trickle out each day detailing the breadth and scope of the destruction there. It has been inspiring, however, to see the way people from Springfield and around the country have rallied behind that community.

Our sister publication, the Joplin Tri-State Business Journal, has done some truly remarkable work this year reporting on both the impact that the storm had on the business community and its seemingly endless efforts to build and grow anew. Reporter and Joplin native David Mink wrote a chilling and beautiful column about his experience after the tornado that said more than words often can.

Moving forward, it’s hard to imagine what 2012 will bring. Hopefully, the progress we’ve seen in 2011 will continue. What’s around the corner? When are things going to turn around? I don’t know. But if 2011 has taught me anything, it’s that we need to be grateful for what we do have. Things can always be worse.

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