John Greuling, the president and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development, delivered the annual report to investors about the local economy on Friday at the Clarion Hotel in Joliet.
He said 2018 was another very positive year for economic growth in Will County – more than 8,000 new jobs were added.
“That’s a number that is astounding, that we’ve been able to keep that up over the last few years,” Greuling said.
The county also saw more than
6 million feet of building space under construction. Greuling said the amount of new construction in the county is more than some communities will ever see. This went along with more than
6 million square feet of building space delivered to the Will County market, which was offset by more than 7.5 million square feet of new leasing activity. All of this resulted in more than
$800 million in private sector investment this year.
Greuling made it a point to emphasize that while a lot of new building space is being constructed, the amount of vacant space has remained consistently low in the past few years. Since 2016, the percentage of small- to medium-sized buildings, of 300,000 square feet or less, that have remained vacant is less than 10 percent.
This year, of the buildings that were 500,000 square feet or larger, only 12.6 percent were vacant. Greuling said there are a few vacant buildings of more than 800,000 square feet, so if they are leased, the percentage of large buildings that are vacant would drop below 10 percent.
“I think it’s a misnomer to say that we have way too much space, and we don’t need it,” Greuling said.
The local unemployment rate has remained low, at 4.3 percent. The most recent high in unemployment was 11.3 percent in 2010, just after the Great Recession.
According to the CED, annual job growth in Will County post-recession has outpaced the state of Illinois,
0.8 percent, and the country, 1.4 percent.
Greuling also talked extensively about the push for investment in infrastructure improvements. The CED helped to bring together a group of local governments, businesses and labor to speed up longterm plans to improve Interstate 80 by the end of 2023.
Dave Bender, the president and CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois, and Greuling stressed the importance of working with politicians at the state and federal level to bring about needed infrastructure investment.