Guest view: Let's focus on the positives

April 21, 2013 

A recent editorial extolling the reasons Illinois should expect little in the way of new jobs does little to help our region's prospects for growth. Instead of dwelling on the impediments to growth, we need to be focusing on the successes occurring here and the efforts underway to grow jobs in key sectors of our local economy.

The Leadership Council just marked its 30th anniversary during its annual Salute to Southwestern Illinois Awards Dinner. Almost 400 gathered to celebrate the dramatic transformation of our region during the past three decades and the investments that fueled that transformation.

Our awards recognized three significant projects that kept our economy going during the recent recession and the labor partnership that contributed to their successful delivery. In all, 48.5 million man hours supported the completion of almost $9 billion in work at Prairie State Energy Campus, Phillips 66 and Dynegy's facilities here in Southwestern Illinois, with the majority of those hours by the local trades.

While those completed projects now support several hundred new permanent jobs in our region, we must continue to look to the future to identify new opportunities for growth. We see plenty of positive recent news worth getting excited about, including: the expansions coming to Boeing and North Bay Produce at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport and to other multimodal facilities across our region; the plans for expansion by Prairie Farms and Kraft Foods; and the work proceeding on the metro-east levees, at the new south harbor at America's Central Port and on the new Mississippi River bridge, which inches closer to completion every day. And those are just some of the investments under way or in the pipeline.

These new investments and the new jobs they will create are coming to our region because of the superior transportation infrastructure, available land and quality workforce that position Southwestern Illinois as a prime location for logistics and distribution. Our organization believes our multimodal advantages will be a key driver of future growth, and we're working hard to support and attract that growth through our Southwestern Illinois Transportation Enhancement Initiative, otherwise known as SITE. The St. Louis Regional Chamber also has identified logistics as an area with growth potential for our broader region, and the organization recognizes that the metro-east is already positioned to welcome that growth.

We have confidence that the regional collaboration that helped to secure a balanced solution to the Poplar Street Bridge ramps issue and capture the prestigious Abilene Trophy for our region's world-class community support of Scott Air Force Base will only be strengthened in the coming years as we work with our various partners to pursue additional investments in this arena.

Yes, securing those opportunities and attracting the associated jobs will be impacted by various factors. We need to be more competitively positioned relative to our neighboring states, and we believe that the use of appropriate incentives can help to level the playing field. Our organization also has been keeping the pressure on our legislators to restore fiscal responsibility to the state of Illinois, and we urge more people to echo that call.

We see a bright future ahead for Southwestern Illinois. Let's keep the focus on the many positives, continue a comprehensive strategic approach to regional economic development, and maybe we won't have to wait so long for those jobs to come.

Ronda Sauget is president of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, a member-based, economic development organization that has worked for 30 years to unite the region for economic growth through its coalition of leaders in business, industry, labor, education and government.

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