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What's it going to take?

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(BCR photo/Lyle Ganther)
Jack Schultz, author of “Boomtown USA”, was one of the speakers at Thursday’s meeting to set up a regional economic development program.

PERU — A regional effort is needed to create jobs in the Illinois Valley area.

That was the message given Thursday at a meeting of leaders of businesses, cities, industrial companies and financial institutions held at St. Bede Academy.

The meeting's purpose was to identify all possibilities to revitalize the Illinois Valley region and to establish jobs for the geographic area, just a little beyond the boundaries of Illinois Valley Community College.

Everett Solon. president of Centrue Bank, acted as chairman of the meeting. He said about eight people gathered in January to discuss the region's economy and what needs to be done to create jobs.

"We felt at that meeting we had a problem of maintaining young people in our communities, mainly because of not enough good-paying jobs," said Solon. "Our goal is to assist local economic development area serviced by IVCC, an area that has about 150,000 people."

Solon said it is better to market the area, not individual communities. LaSalle, Putnam and Bureau counties have a good, quality workforce; good educational system and quality health care, reported Solon.

"We need to capitalize on those assets," he said. "We spend about $10,000 a year on each student going through our schools. We graduate about 2,000 seniors a year and have spent $260 million on their education."

Solon said there needs to be a push to keep those graduates in the area because businesses are spending that money on their education and not getting their investment of tax dollars back if they leave the area for better-paying jobs elsewhere.

Peter Limberger, an entrepreneur and husband of Inga Carus of Carus Corporation of Peru, told people assembled that he has started new businesses and bought existing companies around the world during his career.

He said many communities try to attract one business employing 1,000 people, which rarely happens. He suggested it would be better for communities to financially help entrepreneurs create 100 companies employing two to five people each, a method that is more stable than attracting larger companies.

Limberger said that if 2 percent of the students in the area are aided in starting new businesses, that would mean the creation of 500 jobs.

"Any kind of business means higher quality of services and better downtown areas by encouraging new and unusual ideas from the younger generation," he said. "Young people want to go places at night if they live here, and that means having nice restaurants, art galleries and concerts."

He said this can be accomplished by simply helping starving artists find a place to display their artwork.

Two million tourists come to this area each year and spent their money. Limberger said there needs to be an effort to attract more tourists and help them leave the expensive suburns and live in this area.

He suggested starting a $1 million incubator program in the Illinois Valley area to help young entrepreneurs create businesses and jobs. Limberger said he and his wife will be the first to donate funds to start this program. He felt he needed 20 to 40 investors in the program to reach its $1 million goal.

Limberger said the region needs higher paying jobs even though he wouldn't turn down companies creating minimum-wage jobs, but prefers those businesses paying higher wages to help the region's standard of living.

Jack Rooney of Springfield, a native of Cherry, said the Illinois Valley area has a rich personality and culture unlike any other region of the state. He said the area is the heart of the United States with Interstate 80 and Interstate 39.

He said the timing is perfect to help create jobs by smaller companies instead of relying on larger companies that have left the area over the years like the St. Paul Coal Co. plus many factories in the 1970s and 1980s.

Jack Schultz, author of "Boomtown USA" and "The Agurban," told about communities in the United States helping their economy by recreating themselves. He cited one of those towns as Peru, Ill., when it spent $100,000 to extend infrastructure two to three miles north when I-80 was first built.

This action by city leaders was controversial at the time, but Peru now gets $5 million a year in retail sales from the retail created and eight manufacturing companies located there as a result of that investment.

Dick Janko, who organized Thursday's meeting, asked those attending to get the regional organization going to create jobs for the Illinois Valley. He can be reached at jankoventures@jankorealty.com.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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