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Our Stim Cities Survey Participants

Once a month, ProPublica is asking five citizens in each of our eight Stim Cities to rank the local economy on a scale of 1 (poor) – 10 (outstanding). We’ll chart the average ratings for each city here as an informal measure of local sentiment. Our participants:


Harold Craig, vice president for economic development at Atlanta Technical College
Rating: 5

Craig said that rising unemployment in the area is driving some people to go back to school. "We have one of the highest enrollment rates in the nine years I’ve been here," Craig said. He believes the stimulus money is beginning to have an impact in Atlanta, but it’s too early to say for certain. This year’s Atlanta Tech graduates are finding jobs in the allied healthcare and in traditional field like cosmetology. "Someone told me once," he said, "there’s always money in hair." (In July, he rated the economy a 5.)

Mayor Shirley Franklin
Rating: 2

The first female mayor of Atlanta, Franklin has been in the office since 2002—long enough to see the city through both good times, and, more recently, bad. Through a spokesperson, Franklin has consistently rated the local economy only a 2. The city council voted in early July to raise property taxes by 42 percent to meet a budget shortfall, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, and Franklin has closed City Hall one day a week. (In July, she rated the economy a 2.)

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality
Rating: 5

Graham was brought in last year to expand the gay and lesbian advocacy group, but the recession has driven donations down. Having worked at nonprofits most of his career, Graham knows the ups and downs, but he said this time is different. The layoffs seem to be happening at all levels of organizations, which is different from past downturns, he said. "I know more people who have been laid off than I’ve ever known in my adult life," Graham said. Overall, he said, Atlanta is doing better than many other cities because it’s still attracting new businesses. (In July, he rated the economy a 5.)

Phil Palmer, owner of Radial Café
Rating: 5

Palmer saw the impact of the recession with his own eyes. "Customers who come in disappear; you find out they lost their job," he said. "I’ve got a lot of real estate agent customers I don’t see anymore." Palmer even started eating out less often himself — a decision he knows hurts restaurant owners. After a few tough months at the beginning of the year, though, business has started to come back. (In July, he rated the economy a 4.)

Martin Poole, business agent for Atlanta Carpenters Union Local 225
Rating: 4

Among the first people that ought to be helped by the stimulus package are tradesmen like the carpenters of Atlanta’s Local 225. But Poole said he hasn’t seen any effect from the stimulus yet. "The main thing is the money," said Poole. "The banks are cutting money from our contractors and developers. Our contractors have scaled way back." (In July, he rated the economy a 4.)


Eric Battite, owner of the Real Deal Deli
Rating: 7

Battite sees the recession as an opportunity to make his business leaner. "The winter was just terrible," he said. "Being in business 12 years, [it was] probably the worst winter I can remember." Battite laid off one of his employees and tried to do more with less. "It made my business stronger," he said. "If you’re strong, and you hang in there, there’s a lot of opportunity." (In July, he rated the economy a 7.5.)

Rick Carl, painting contractor
Rating: 5

Carl has been able to ride out the recession by cutting his rates. "I’d rather stay busy than starve," he said. Once he dropped his rates, he said his workload for the summer filled up. "People are still fixing up their property," he said. "Because people can’t buy a new house, they fix up what they’ve got." (In July, he rated the economy a 6.)

Michael Dimino, senior business adviser at the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center
Rating: 6

A former entrepreneur himself, Dimino has been working in business assistance in Boston for 10 years and said the downturn is the worst he’s seen. Dimino said he urges small business owners to remember that a hallmark of entrepreneurs is adaptability. "But it’s not without pain and suffering," he added. (In July, he rated the economy a 6.)

Jennifer Frey, public school teacher in Brookline, a Boston suburb
Frey could not be reached; we will update later.

From July: Frey worries about the impact of the recession on the teaching field. "We have a decrease in aid to cities and towns, which would include the Boston schools," said Frey, who wonders if teachers around Boston will get laid off. Her husband lost his job over a year ago, and she worries that the few jobs that still exist go to younger workers, who are often cheaper for companies to hire. (In July, she rated the economy a 5.)

Rob Nager, owner of the Decadent Dog
Rating: 5

As the economy goes, so goes pet care. Nager is the owner of Decadent Dog, which offers everything from dog-walking and obedience training to dog birthday parties and pet portraits. He said he’s continuing to increase his customer count, albeit slowly. "People are still buying puppies," he said. Nager recently heard from a dog-owner who, six months after her last visit, is starting a new job after being unemployed. "The dogs are coming back starting on Monday," said Nager. (In July, he rated the economy a 5.)


Harry Emrich, fitter for Davis Steel & Iron
Rating: 4

Emrich has worked at Davis Steel & Iron since 1979. He saws and preps the materials (the iron and steel) used in construction. He is working on the construction of the cultural campus of museums and theaters in downtown Charlotte. "We’re doing great at the shop," he said, but government policies so far "still haven’t gotten enough money to the consumer." Emrich’s faith is important to him. Each morning before work, he joins 20 to 25 of his colleagues to pray. Every year since 1998, he has traveled to Kenya for two weeks for medical evangelism and water purification work through LifeWater Medical Ministries. (In July, he rated the economy a 4.)

Kim Hawkins, mom
Rating: 5

Hawkins has been married for 18 years to Jack. They have two daughters. Hawkins has a marketing degree and worked in consumer product sales for 15 years. She currently works part-time as a recruiter for Kings College and works for the YMCA one day a month, which helps finance her membership and provides discounts for her daughters’ activities. Since she gave up her full-time career 11 years ago, she and her family have "learned to live very frugal." "The bad economy has not affected our lifestyle but we have lost quite a bit of our retirement savings as a result of the stock market decline," she said. Uncertainty in the job market is keeping people from making commitments, she said. But on the positive side – she is noticing bigger crowds at the mall. (In July, she rated the economy a 5.)

Mayor Pat McCrory
Rating: 5.5

In November, McCrory, a Republican, lost a close race for governor to Democrat Bev Perdue. After seven terms as mayor, McCrory is not running for re-election this fall. He’s not sure what he’s going to do next. He said he is going to "put everything I have into the next five months." According to McCrory, the stimulus money is not being used on long-term sustainable projects. The money has been used by mayors and governors to fill in budget gaps; it’s not really going into new projects. "In Charlotte we have a good, diverse economy," that is not dependent only on banking. He mentioned the fields of engineering, energy, manufacturing and transportation. (In July, he rated the economy a 5.5.)

Fran Scibelli, longtime Charlotte restaurateur and caterer
Rating: 5.5

Scibelli, who formerly owned a café and bakery, just opened a new restaurant called Fran’s Filling Station. She was personally affected by the recession, particularly problems in the banking sector, "because a lot of my business [corporate catering] came from Wachovia," the ailing bank that was acquired by Wells Fargo. She is still concerned about rising gas prices and their impact on spending but is mildly optimistic. "My business remains steady." (In July, she rated the economy a 5.)


George Anagnos, owner of 523 Tap & Grill
Rating: 6

Just as Elkhart’s unemployment was reaching 20 percent, George Anagnos was opening a restaurant on Main Street that sells mahi-mahi and martinis. When a customer orders the signature saganaki cheese, the chef comes out tableside, lights it on fire with a shot of brandy and yells, "Opa!" Timing apparently runs in the genes. Anagnos’ grandfather opened up a hat-cleaning business in the same space in 1930 in the middle of the Great Depression. But business has been brisk, Anagnos said. (In July, he rated the economy a 6.)

Terry and Desiree Gonyon, evicted from their home with nine children
Rating: 2

Fed up with begging the bank to lower their monthly mortgage payments, Terry and Desiree Gonyon erected a sign that read, "Government bailouts don’t work. Foreclosed. We lost this home. Family with 9 children put out." With home construction jobs drying up, Terry, a contractor, and Desiree, who makes minimum wage at a Subway, couldn’t pay rent. The Gonyons were evicted in March and moved into a single-wide trailer on the outskirts of town. Work remains slow. (In July, they rated the economy a 2.)

Mayor Dick Moore
Rating: 4

Elkhart’s unemployment hit 20.7 percent in March. It’s come down since then but remains high at 18.8 percent. Moore, whose father worked for the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, is hopeful. The RV industry is doing some hiring. The airport has broken ground on its runway and millions of dollars in projects are in the pipeline. (In July, he rated the economy a 4.)

Ed Neufeldt, laid-off RV worker
Neufeldt could not be reached; we will update later.

From July: Elkhart is known as "the RV Capital of the World." But it’s taken a battering recently with high gas prices and a clampdown on credit. Ed Neufeldt became one of its victims when the Monaco Coach plant closed down last fall and laid off hundreds of employees. Neufeldt introduced President Obama when he came to speak in February but remains skeptical that the stimulus package will help RV workers. But there’s some good news: he recently got a job. (In July, he rated the economy a 5.)

Rob Reid, owner of Great Lakes RV Center
Rating: 7

Business was down a little in August at Great Lakes RV Center, said owner Rob Reid. But he feels the town is starting to pick up a little, as local factories start to hire back some of the people they laid off over the last year. "Is Elkhart bad? Yeah, Elkhart’s bad," said Reid. "But they’re still on the map and they’re starting to get momentum again as a community." (In July, he rated the economy a 7.5.)

Grand Forks

Mayor Mike Brown, also a practicing OB/GYN
Rating: 9

Brown said that most of Grand Forks’s economic canaries are still happily chirping away. "Our university is quite healthy," he said, "hotel rates are constant and good." The wind energy company, LM Glasfiber, is looking to expand its plant in town, and sales tax has continued to bring in over $1 million each month, he said. Still, Brown said he has a few patients that were laid off by the airplane-part manufacturer Cirrus. "Otherwise," Brown said, "things are going well. People have disposable income, and there are always lines at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club when you go shopping. People are still eating out, but McDonald’s seems to be busier. I do think some of the upper-end restaurants seem to be doing less business." (In July, he rated the economy a 9.)

Wayne Gensrich, manager of Home of Economy department store
Rating: 4

Gensrich walks the floor of Home of Economy, a 58,000-square-foot department store that sells everything from farm equipment and auto parts to pet supplies and sporting goods. He said that Home of Economy hasn’t lost customers through the recession, but that "they’re picking and choosing what they’re buying a little more." Home of Economy has not had to cut any employees at the store, Gensrich said, but perhaps other employers have, because when he spoke with ProPublica in May, Gensrich had noticed a spike in job applicants. "Sometimes in a month we didn’t even get 10," he said. "We’ve gotten five today already." (In July, he rated the economy a 5.)

Dave Hakstol, University of North Dakota hockey coach
August rating not available

Hakstol leads a team that perennially contends for the national championship of college hockey. The notoriety of the Fighting Sioux has made the university’s summer hockey camp a big draw. But even though Hakstol sees the local economy holding steady, he said that fewer youth players made long trips to attend the camp this year. "We’re used to having a lot of people travel in from the East Coast," Hakstol said, "and we’re not seeing that this year." All told, Hakstol estimates that the camp is down about 10 percent to 15 percent from the normal 700 to 1,000 players. The UND hockey team still packs in the rink capacity of just under 12,000 fans for each game, but is going on three years without raising ticket prices. (In July, he rated the economy a 7.5.)

Dan Olson, farmer (corn, wheat, sugar beets, pintos)
Rating: 6

Olson said the wet ground – hangover from spring floods in North Dakota – has had more of an impact on his work than the recession. "Our soils are cold and wet," he said, "so it took us a long time to get into the fields." Corn prices are tied to oil prices, and, like other residents, Olson feels that the rural Grand Forks area is somewhat insulated, for better and worse, from fluctuations in the national economy. With the price of wheat rising in early June, Olson was just getting ready to sell some of his crop when "wheat collapsed 10 or 15 percent in two weeks," he said. (In July, he rated the economy a 7.)

Dave Sena, shelter director
Rating: 5

"We haven’t seen this type of growth in a while," Sena said in June, pointing out that the shelter had to make 4,000 more meals compared to the same period of 2008. Since Grand Forks has not been hit as hard as other areas, Sena said that some people are showing up in the shelter looking for jobs after striking out in Chicago and California. The shelter recently opened a new facility, built with private donations, but Sena said that corporate donors are suddenly feeling strapped. "Donors are saying, ‘Dave, our expenses are going up,’" Sena said. "We’ve had some businesses telling us they have to cut down." (In July, he rated the economy a 4.)

Las Vegas

Mayor Oscar Goodman
Rating: 8

Goodman has been mayor of Las Vegas since 1999. A Philadelphia native, he moved to Las Vegas in the 1960s, where he became a prominent defense lawyer. Goodman notes that Las Vegas recently hosted the NHL Awards, bringing tourists to the city. And on a recent trip to Boston, Goodman noticed that the plane back was full. (In July, he rated the economy an 8.)

Darren Lee, Elvis impersonator and his wife and manager, Allison LaBine
Rating: 3

Lee had to take a 40 percent wage cut from his weekly show, and, according to LaBine, his freelance wedding gigs are down from around 25 a month to three or four. "People consider entertainment at the wedding a luxury," LaBine said. "They’re barely even getting married now." The couple recently watched a nearby house similar to their own sell for $162,500, around $200,000 less than LaBine and Lee paid for their home as first time buyers in 2005, with a no-down payment mortgage. The couple is now struggling to refinance their mortgage. "If we’d had any idea what was going on," LaBine said, "we’d have stuck to renting." (In July, they rated the economy a 3.)

Michael Leonard, senior vice president for casino marketing and operations at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino
Rating: 6

The Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas has been holding up a little better than the casinos on the Strip, Leonard and others with the casino say. With the economy battered, tourists have been looking for deals and drifting in from the Strip. Originally from Philadelphia, Leonard has been working in the casino industry for 22 years. After stints in Atlantic City, the Bahamas, and Mississippi, he moved to Las Vegas in 2006. (In July, he rated the economy a 6.)

Ralph Marano, senior director of operations at the Silver Nugget
Rating: 3

A few years ago, Marano, who oversees slots, bingo, food and beverage services and facilities maintenance at the Silver Nugget – a locals’ casino – felt that the Vegas economy was a perfect 10. That was before the economy cost Marano his job at the larger Station Casinos. Lately, Marano said, fewer people stop by the Silver Nugget – where he has worked for less than a year – and they hold tighter to their dough when they do. He said that the Silver Nugget has dropped food prices up to 50 percent – breakfast now starts at $1, and dinner at $3 – and the casino has been using direct mailing advertising to try to retain core customers. As far as his personal life, "I’ve had to re-mortgage my house," Marano said. "There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight." (In July, he rated the economy a 4.)

Chris Theisgen, crane operator
Rating: 2

As a crane operator who often works on the Las Vegas Strip, Theisgen has seen his hours cut significantly since the start of the economic downturn. To make up for it, he’s looking for side painting and handyman jobs. "The whole construction industry, it’s just stopped," he said. "Everyone I know is down to a day or two a week. It’s ridiculous." (In July, he rated the economy a 3.)


Bryan Brewer, venture capitalist
Rating: 6

The recession has offered up a silver lining for people like Brewer, a venture capitalist who helps people trying to start a business. As people lose their jobs, Brewer said, more people turn to him for help. "It’s what The Wall Street Journal calls ‘forced entrepreneurship,’ " he said. "My business is pretty good." (In July, he rated the economy a 6.)

Dwight Dively, Seattle finance director
August rating not available

From where Dively sits, the local economy is getting worse. "We’re better off than most metro areas, but not yet seeing any real signs of an upturn," said Dively, who cited at 25-year high in unemployment, a lull in construction and the possibility of more layoffs at Boeing. His sister-in-law recently lost her job as a teacher in Portland, to the south. "There’s really just not any good news," he said. (In July, he rated the economy a 3.)

Emmy Jordan, director of small business and member relations at the Seattle Chamber of Commerce
Rating: 7

Jordan said that one way of measuring the strength of the local economy is the number of small business owners who turn out for the networking and professional development events she hosts. "In April, we fell off a cliff," said Jordan, who thinks that small business owners had their hands full just trying to keep their businesses running. Now, she said, "We’re seeing a lot of those people come back." (In July, she rated the economy a 7.)

Anders Miller, works at Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market
Rating: 8

Miller, 33, has worked at the fish market since 2000. He said the recession isn’t making an impact on his employer. "I’m not experiencing any kind of a recession," he said. "We actually had to hire people this month. People always got to eat." (In June, he rated the economy an 8.)

Kian Pornour, small business owner and real estate agent
Rating: 8

Pornour said the real estate market in Seattle seems to be improving. August was "the biggest month that we have done as far as real estate goes," said Pornour. "It’s just exploded." He added that while he isn’t spending his money on a vacation this year, he’s feeling a lot more positive than earlier in the summer. (In July, he rated the economy an 8.)

St. Cloud

Mayor Dave Kleis
Rating: 6.8

A second-term mayor and a Republican state senator before that, Kleis isn’t sure yet what effect the stimulus will have on St. Cloud. The city seemed poised to benefit greatly from the stimulus package as home to a New Flyer bus plant; Vice President Joe Biden even visited St. Cloud to highlight the bus company. But that was before the company announced in August that it was laying off 320 people, after an order from Chicago was delayed. For now, the city still has one of the lowest unemployment rates in our survey, at 7.7 percent. (In July, he rated the economy a 6.8.)

Kathleen Virnig, owner of Archangel Books & Gifts
Rating: 6.5

As an owner of a Catholic bookstore, Virnig has seen a decline in business and has had to cut employee hours. One of the few items selling well is the St. Joseph real estate kit – a small statue that religious homeowners bury upside down in their yards to make their homes sell faster. Virnig is fed up with government policies that she said are intruding on people’s lives and thinks the stimulus package will only lead to increased taxes. On the attention St. Cloud is getting from the Obama administration: "The success story was a success story already. They’re taking advantage of that success. They’re just pumping it up a little bit more so that they can take the glory for it." (In July, she rated the economy a 5.5.)

Pete Rengel, third-generation owner of Rengel Printing Company
Rengel could not be reached; we will update later.

From July: Rengel, 29, bought the small printing company from his father in 2004. It was started by his grandfather in 1921. He recently received a small business loan from the stimulus package that will guarantee his bank payments up to $35,000 if for some reason he has a tight month or can’t make payroll. Right now, things are going well at the printing company. But he doesn’t think St. Cloud has seen "the worst of the worst." (In June, he rated the economy a 3.5.)

Ann Nolan
Rating: 5

A customer support manager for a small business, Ann Nolan has lived in St. Cloud for 15 years. She said St. Cloud’s economy still has a long way to go. "We have a lot of interest in economic development in the community," said Nolan. "But we are still plagued with low-wage jobs." (In July, she rated the economy a 5.)

Jules Mische
Rating: 5

This November, Mische will celebrate the fourth anniversary of the opening of her restaurant, Jules’ Bistro. It hasn’t been easy: Mische expected the downtown restaurant to be profitable by now, but she said the recession has made it harder to reach that goal. But Mische, who moved to St. Cloud from nearby Fergus Falls in 1984 and who works as a high school special education teacher, is still optimistic. "The fact that we’re still open speaks volumes," she said. (In July, she rated the economy a 5.)

Participating Food Banks

The food banks we’ve surveyed use varying measures to track activity. Here are the participating agencies and how they monitor demand: Atlanta Community Food Bank (food assistance requests); Catholic Charities Emergency Services in St. Cloud (individuals served); Loaves & Fishes Foodbank in Charlotte (individuals served); Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada Community Food Pantry (grocery bags filled); West Seattle Food Bank (households served); Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Grand Forks (individuals served); American Red Cross Food Pantry in Boston (individuals served); Elkhart County Food Network (families served).

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