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home : opinions : columns   May 29, 2016

1/21/2014 4:22:00 PM
Column: Goal No. 1 - Attract more major employers

Craig Sterrett
News Editor

A steering committee is trying to maneuver our region into the right direction so more developers for major businesses and industries will consider our area a great place to locate.

In case I didn’t make it clear in a story in Saturday’s paper, Illinois Valley Area Chamber of Commerce helped organize a group trying to get all communities in the region working together to attract more jobs that pay well. However, it’s not an IVAC group. IVAC just set up the meeting of the new economic development committee, with help from Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies.

This is my opinion, not a NewsTribune or chamber of commerce opinion:

It’s about time.

When the economy went bad and there was some turnover in staffing at the chamber of commerce prior to 2010, some communities dropped out. Some that stayed in hired their own economic development directors, such as Peru.

La Salle has gone out on its own.

Streator Mayor Jimmie Lansford attended Friday’s meeting and said even though Streator has its own chamber and goals, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to see the entire region thrive. He said if any business contacts a local economic development director or chamber and that city doesn’t have a site that’s the perfect fit for a manufacturing plant, warehouse or other employer, he would hope those individual chambers of economic directors share neighboring communities’ information and site availability with those scouts.

He doesn’t have any way of knowing if some of the localized focus in recent years has caused the region to miss out on luring a big employer to the region. But he knows towns that neighbor each other do benefit from one another’s economic victories. For instance, many people from throughout the region commute to the rapidly-growing Vactor sewer-vacuum-truck plant in Streator, and a lot of Streator residents commute to jobs such as at James Hardie in Peru.

Longtime local banker O.J. Stoutner represented state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) at the meeting and said the steering committee has not settled on a name for the region. He said people who don’t live in the area don’t necessarily know what “the Illinois Valley” is, even though everyone here identifies it with the Illinois Valley Community College district that includes La Salle, Bureau, Putnam and Marshall counties.

“I think our marketing efforts have to be a lot bigger than just the individual communities if we are going to be able to get a big employer to come into the region,” Lansford said. He likes the idea of there being one point of contact for developers looking for ideal sites.

And, he believes this region has a lot going for it, with three interstate highways, river freight access, good natural resources and recreation areas, good supplies of sewer, water and labor. He paved the way to an agreement for Streator High School to work with employers to get students trained to prepare for the workforce. Likewise, he said the new Community Technology Center at IVCC is designed to help retrain workers or help new workers fashion their skills to jobs will be available locally.

“We’ve got an awful lot of the pieces; it just needs to be drawn together,” Lansford said.

Hennepin Village President Kevin Coleman said IVAC has been helpful to Hennepin, but it would be good to be represented by an organization or contact person who knows all about all the resources of a larger region than the handful of communities that are IVAC members.

Oglesby Mayor Don Finley has been working with developers in recent years, and told the group Bloomington considers its region to spread north to Interstate 80, Coleman said. This region needs similar, unified representation. Coleman would love to see a major employer come to any town in the Illinois Valley, or to the excellent industrial sites available on the north side of Hennepin. He’s glad to see something being done.

“It’s a big effort with a lot of great, intelligent people involved,” he said.

And it’s about time for the communities to work together. How wise is it for Ottawa, Streator, La Salle, Mendota, Princeton and other cities to continue to work separately when in actuality they have, or should have, a common goal?

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