When it comes to a prospective business, local communities are not viewed solely as Ottawa, Streator or any other town or city, but as a region.Print this story
"I will never see you as a community. I will see you as north central Illinois," said Robert Ady, of Ady International in Mount Prospect. Ady's profession is identifying prime locations for businesses in the United States and around the world.
He was one of several speakers at Celebrations 150 in La Salle Thursday at the North Central Illinois Council of Governments' Economic Development Summit, sponsored by Ameren, ComEd and Citizens First National Bank.
Picking a winner
Robert Ady spoke to the audience about the site selection process for companies.
One audience member said companies often overlook small towns and asked what can be done to promote such communities.
When attracting companies to the area, it's best to view areas not by city or county, but rather by region, Ady explained.
"Instead of one technical school or one community college, you might have four or five," Ady said. "You need to understand cooperation is so much more important than competition."
Half of all site searches begin with an available building search. Ady said areas with the least advantages and the greatest disadvantages are eliminated.
"Our job is really to eliminate your area. It's painful, but it's true," Ady said. "It's your job not to be eliminated. If we can eliminate a state, that makes our job a lot easier."
Some companies eliminate Illinois immediately since they may be looking for a certain climate or a city by a coast.
If a community's Web site isn't up to snuff, it could be eliminated without its knowledge. Web sites should offer easy navigation, good content and speed. Brochures establish credibility, but serve little purpose otherwise, he said, and computer slideshows with information are helpful when short and informative.
All in all, Ady said, Illinois as a whole has done a poor job marketing itself.
"Don't be down in the dumps," he offered. "This is a great area. When companies come to the area they want to feel a positive attitude."
North central Illinois
Audience members, with hometowns spanning from Princeton to Morris, were interested in promoting business in their communities and addressing regional concerns such as preventing the "brain drain" of highly skilled workers seeking employment elsewhere.
One man said the area mostly is known for low income, blue collar work and asked Ady's recommendation for breaking away from the mold.
"It comes back to education and training," said Ady. "Jobs are becoming more sophisticated.
"Many companies tell me it's more difficult for them to untrain someone who's grown up on an assembly line. They'd rather have someone with no skills and train them their way."
Companies are interested in soft skills, he said, those basic skills taught in kindergarten. There's 12 qualities companies look for, which include responsibility, flexibility, communication, team work and leadership. Training programs in Illinois focus on hard skills, he said.
A few audience members asked Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, about the "youth flight" and "brain drain."
"The young people leave for better jobs," one audience member said. "We do produce good students, they just don't come back."
Martire suggested doing a study of who's growing, who's leaving and a trend analysis.
Another audience member said a big challenge is not having jobs to offer to four-year college graduates.
Pam Furlan, executive director of Business Retention and Expansion Programs, said a recent state of the workforce report indicated more than 50 percent of high school graduates said they were leaving their hometown to continue their education and nearly 20 percent said they were leaving to get a job. More than half did not plan to return.
"Most say they're not going to return, but we know high school students sometimes say that," Furlan said, adding that several return in their late 20s and early 30s to settle down and start a family.
Furlan said promotion of business and job retention programs is needed, as well more business internships and strategic groups.
As far Illinois' economic climate, Ady feels it's simply average.
"The bar is being raised in other states and we're still sitting at the same level," said the Illinois native, noting the East has been aggressive in its economic development. "We need to have a focus on where we are and where we're going. You can only drift for so long."
When a company is debating between two or three sites, the decision can come down to incentives, he said, such as infrastructure, relocation incentives and the price of land.
North central Illinois is struggling with the same issues many counties in the state and nation are facing -- a decline in manufacturing jobs and an increase in low wage service jobs.
Martire said between 1990 and 2007 Illinois lost 26 percent of its manufacturing jobs, which is worse than the Midwest at 20.8 percent and the nation at 20.9 percent.
The jobs coming into the state mostly are service jobs, which pay 29 percent less than manufacturing jobs.
La Salle, Bureau, Putnam and Marshall counties each have experienced about 2 percent overall job loss from 2000 to 2005.
Furlan said north central Illinois lost 11,000 jobs in manufacturing and gained 15,000 in service.
Furlan outlined recommendations for NCICG, community colleges and small business development centers, chambers of commerce and economic development agencies and NCI Works, which include promoting regionalism, exploring a business incubator project, promoting tourism and supporting and encouraging efforts to address brain drain and youth flight issues.
|Photo: doug larson|
Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, speaks to a crowd of about 40 business leaders Thursday at the North Central Illinois Council of Governments’ Economic Development Summit at Celebrations 150 in La Salle. Martire was one of several speakers throughout the day who spoke about the economic climate of the state and north central Illinois.
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