THE SMALL BUSINESSWOMAN
Peppe Smith’s index for economic recovery: the party calendar at her bowling alley.
Four years ago, high-end children’s birthday parties were a rarity at Camelot Lanes in Boardman, Ohio. Now, there are a few every weekend.
Smith sees positive signs all around her suburban Youngstown community: Farmers buying tractors. Women purchasing expensive sewing machines. A doughnut shop under construction. Vacant stores filling with businesses. An expanding steel pipe mill. And more bowling balls thundering down the lanes.
“I cannot deny that I am better off than I was four years ago,” she declares, then pointedly adds: “I do not attribute that to the president.”
Smith credits the resurgence in the area to a natural gas-drilling boom that could create tens of thousands of jobs and bring billions of dollars in investments. It’s a dramatic change for Youngstown, the archetypal Rust Belt city, whose shuttered steel mills have long served as a bleak reminder of the decline of America’s manufacturing might.
Since Youngstown was struggling before the recession, Smith says, its decline wasn’t as steep during the downturn.
“We didn’t have the go, go, go,” she says, “so we didn’t have the fall, fall, fall “
But crews involved in the natural gas exploration are boosting her business, along with workers from the nearby General Motors’ Lordstown plant, a major beneficiary of the auto bailout. Since its restructuring, GM has added a third shift there to produce the Chevy Cruze.
Despite the bailout’s benefits, Smith is no fan. Ford, she says, handled its own financial troubles on its own. “It makes you want to buy a Ford,” she says. “GM should take care of its own problems.”
Smith believes the Democratic Party approach is “socialistic,” creating big government, with people becoming too dependent on “handouts.”
“You look at the Kennedys, the Clintons, the Obamas, they always run their campaigns on volumes of people who will need government help,” she says. “People make fun of the fact that Republicans have assets and want to run government like business.”
Small business, she says, is self-reliant. “The buck stops with me,” she says. “We don’t have anybody else to look to for help. I wouldn’t sit back and wait for somebody to bail me out. I’m not counting on Washington to bring me anything. I do it myself.”
In the high-risk, high-reward world of farming, Randy Dreher doesn’t measure his finances in four-year election cycles.
His fortunes revolve around crop prices, exports, and of course, the caprices of nature.
Despite a blistering drought this year, the fifth-generation Iowa farmer was left pretty much unscathed, the high crop prices offsetting his reduced crop. These are golden times in America’s heartland, and as evidence, Dreher points to a record land sale in Audubon County, where he farms 200 acres.
Farm land recently was sold for a whopping $11,900 an acre. He says the buyer was a 75-year-old farmer.
“When you set a county record, there’s got to be a lot of optimism,” says Dreher, who grows corn and beans and raises pigs and cows on the same plot of land in west-central Iowa where his great-great grandfather settled more than 100 years ago.
Farm land values have skyrocketed across Iowa. In Dreher’s county, for instance, in just a two-year span ending in 2011, an acre jumped from $4,537 to $7,240 — and the climb isn’t over, according to Michael Duffy, an Iowa State University economist.
Dreher says agriculture is enjoying its best days since he was born in 1980.
“If you can’t make it in farming now, you’ll never make it in farming,” he says. “If you can’t make money, find something else to do.”
And yet, he sees clouds in the larger economic picture.
“I think about the debt and Social Security and Medicare. Where all those dollars are going to come from is very alarming to me.” Dreher says. “It’s like going to the bank every day, knowing you’re overextended and have to pay it back someday. ... We can’t borrow ourselves into oblivion.”
Dreher says he and his wife have saved more in recent years, but being prudent and conservative has its limits.
“You can be responsible and be making progress in your own little world, but there are outside factors you can’t control,” he says. “You prepare for the worst, but you can only do so much.”