Metro-East News

Metro-east manufacturers looking for workers

Contegra Construction has completed construction of the $23.5 million, 32-acre FedEx Ground distribution center in Sauget Business Park.
Contegra Construction has completed construction of the $23.5 million, 32-acre FedEx Ground distribution center in Sauget Business Park. dholtmann@bnd.com

New hospitals and an expanding manufacturing base with good-paying jobs highlight an annual report of the metro-east economy.

The Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois has released its 2014 Market Review & Investment Update, which identifies a number of projects that top $100 million, including the recently completed $104 million Chain of Rocks Bridge and the $110 million levee upgrades that are ongoing in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties.

Ellen Krohne, who serves as executive director of the member-based economic development organization that serves St. Clair and Madison counties, said significant investment has recently been made within the region’s health care, logistics and distribution sectors.

Two new hospitals being built just a few miles apart headline the list of ongoing health care expansion in the region. The new St. Elizabeth’s Hospital under construction in O’Fallon is a $300 million investment in the region. In Shiloh, construction of Memorial Hospital East is expected to be completed in December with the hospital expected to open in April. The $124 million, 207,000-square-foot hospital will be a second campus for the Belleville-based hospital.

A $26.7 million remodeling project has recently been completed at Anderson Hospital in Maryville, and a $2.8 million new emergency room has opened at Touchette Regional Hospital in Centreville.

“The health care sector has many good investments happening in St. Clair County, with Memorial Hospital’s expansion and St. Elizabeth’s new hospital,” Krohne said. “In Madison County, there is St. Joseph’s Hospital (in Highland that completed a $63 million expansion in 2013) and several other large hospital organizations and health care organizations that have been upgraded and added to the health care sector.”

Leading the report’s list of recently completed projects is the $670 million Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, which opened in February 2014. Another noteworthy project is the recent $40 million expansion at Kraft Food in Granite City, which expects to add 30 new jobs when the upgrades are completed. In Sauget, a $23.5 million Fed Ex distribution center opened last year. A $20 million speculative building has been built at the Gateway Commerce Center in Edwardsville.

Krohne said Fed Ex and growth at Gateway Commerce Center are very important additions to the metro-east.

The companies that we have in the Gateway Commerce Center, such as Hershey, Procter & Gamble, and other many companies that we have added have expanded their facilities and those are all good. We saw a nice addition at Kraft Foods that will be completed in 2015. That reinforced our manufacturing sector here and many of them are here to stay.

Ellen Krohne, executive director, Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois

“The companies that we have in the Gateway Commerce Center, such as Hershey, Procter & Gamble, and other many companies that we have added have expanded their facilities and those are all good,” Krohne said. “We saw a nice addition at Kraft Foods. That has reinforced our manufacturing sector here and many of them are here to stay.”

Following this expansion in the metro-east manufacturing sector is the potential for jobs. Krohne said a local manufacturing steering committee has recently researched the metro-east manufacturing industry and found that more local companies are looking for trained workers.

“We found manufacturing jobs in Southwestern Illinois that have very well paid jobs with good benefits,” Krohne said. “They need more of those workers, but it is getting hard to get good entry-level applicants to work. They need new people to come to work in those fields.”

She said local community colleges, such as Southwestern Illinois College, provide this needed training, and the Leadership Council is working to educate students and the public about the potential employment opportunities.

There is training in place, and it helps people that want to work in manufacturing understand those jobs and training are available. This is an issue across the nation, and we decided to take a proactive approach to reach out to students, counselors and parents that this is a job you can have without a four-year degree with good training available here, at a local community college, and make a good family-supporting wage.

Ellen Krohne, executive director, Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois

“There is training in place, and it helps people that want to work in manufacturing understand those jobs and training are available,” she said. “This is an issue across the nation, and we decided to take a proactive approach to reach out to students, counselors and parents that this is a job you can have without a four-year degree with good training available here, at a local community college, and make a good family-supporting wage.”

The metro-east’s labor force is also growing. According to the report, the metro-east accounts for 18 percent of the total workforce in the St. Louis metro area. Between 2013 and last year, the region’s number of employed and those looking for work increased by 2.4 percent, from 255,601 to 261,846. In that time, the regional unemployment rate fell from 8.9 percent to 7.2 percent.

Following years of consecutive drops in private-sector employment, the region recorded a net gain of 4,097 jobs between 2013 and 2014. The biggest gains were reported in professional and business services industry, which added 1,478 new employees in that span. The local construction industry hired 1,420 and the leisure and hospitality sector added 1,335 more jobs in that time.

Another noteworthy economic expansion in the area is the South Harbor under construction at America’s Central Port. Port executive director Dennis Wilmsmeyer said the $50 million harbor project is anticipated to be completed within the next two months. The project includes upgrades to the existing rail line that will serve the port’s warehouses. Wilmsmeyer said this will help the new harbor become a more efficient and cost-effective operation for the port district.

“We believe that this project will really spur development,” Wilmsmeyer said. “We’re very hopeful that will make things happen very quickly.”

Krohne said Scott Air Force Base also tops the list of economic expansion. Almost $100 million has recently been invested between three developments at the base. One is a $65 million Defense Information Systems Agency Headquarters Building under construction, as well as a $16 million building that will serve as the new headquarters for the 18th Air Force and Air Mobility Command and a $16 million renovation underway at the Cyber Security Squadron.

“We continue to see growth at Scott Air Force Base with the investment there,” Krohne said.

The 2014 Market Review & Investment Update is available online on the Leadership Council’s Web site, leadershipcouncilswil.com.

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