At the Will County Center for Economic Development’s annual Eye-Opener Breakfast held in Mokena last month, I reported that Will County continues to charge ahead in business expansions and new locations.
This despite the state’s continued financial struggles and failure to take steps to improve the business climate through tax and regulatory reform.
Some of our numbers for the first half of 2017:
1. The Will County unemployment rate in May fell to 4.2%, the lowest it has been since October of 2006 (3.3%) and down from our 30 year high of 12.9% in January of 2010.
2. Over 6,000 new jobs have been added in the county since this time last year.
3. As of June, Will County had eight of the 10 largest industrial facilities under construction in the entire metro-Chicago area, totaling over 8.5 million square feet. When occupied, these facilities will house an additional 4,000-plus new jobs
The companies making investments and creating jobs are in the manufacturing, food processing, health care and distribution and logistics sectors. Surprisingly, we saw a 1 percent growth in manufacturing jobs in 2016, bucking the trend in the rest of the state.
One business sector that has not recovered since the Great Recession is new housing construction. Consider this: Between 1997 and 2007 over 71,000 single family homes were built in Will County.
Since 2007, just over 7,900 have been built.
This collapse has impacted our friends in the building trades, construction materials sales, furniture and home goods stores and our municipalities that have relied on population growth for new taxes, fees and retail sales.
The good news is we are finally starting to see some real housing recovery in 2017.
The future is very promising for continued business growth in Will County.
Our quality of life, location, transportation assets, talented workforce and excellent higher education facilities are critical to economic success. It also helps to have several significant new business developments being proposed in Will County:
1. Rock Run Crossings: This 265-acre development at the intersection of I-55 and I-80 promises to be one of the most significant new mixed-use developments in the entire Chicago region. Located in the City of Joliet, this project will contain retail, residential, restaurants, entertainment and hotel facilities and will be a major destination for the region, generating thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in new tax revenue.
2. Houbolt Bridge: Just east of the Rock Run project is the planned Houbolt Bridge which will connect I-80 with the CenterPoint Intermodal Center. The project is designed to take truck traffic away from the I-80/Rte. 53 interchange, a heavily congested connector to the intermodal yards. A public/private partnership between the State of Illinois, CenterPoint Properties, Will County and the City of Joliet, it is an innovative way to fund major infrastructure projects to support business growth.
3. CSX Crete Intermodal Center: Located along Route 394 in the Village of Crete in eastern Will County, this 1,000-plus acre development will provide intermodal services to companies seeking access to major ports on the East Coast. While the project is still under review by the railroad and community, it promises to create thousands of new construction and logistics jobs opening tremendous business development opportunities in that part of Will County.
4. Compass Business Park: A new 2,200-acre industrial park in Elwood has been proposed by NorthPoint Development just east of the CenterPoint Intermodal Center off Route 53. The project will bring $1.2 billion investment by the developer, 1,200-plus construction jobs and 15,000 new jobs when the project is completed.
Most counties, especially in Illinois, would be happy to have just one of these projects. If Will County continues to attract developments of this magnitude, we will remain the bright spot in the Illinois economy for many years to come.
• John Greuling is president and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development.