Like many rural American communities during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Whiteside County/Northwest Illinois Region saw numerous business acquisitions, consolidations, closures, relocations and offshoring as a result of the economic disruptions of globalization. Several rural American communities have not recovered from these disruptions, or are still struggling, but in the Whiteside County/Northwest Illinois Region the communities have stepped up to meet the challenges we have all faced, and are winning the battle. Over the past twenty years, we have seen a diversifying economy, a working answer to workforce development, and a community united in working together to come up with workable solutions.
The Whiteside Region has seen businesses, educational institutions, elected officials and other stakeholders come together and come up with actions that have resulted in multiple successes.
On March 9th of this year, HALO Branded Solutions will host a ribbon cutting of a 275,000-square-foot distribution center, that will employ an additional 350 employees. This $26 million investment comes on the heels of 2018’s completion of HALO’s $21 million, 150,000-square-foot world headquarters. These two projects will result in HALO’s employing 1,000 in Whiteside County, and 1,700 worldwide.
HALO could have located these facilities anywhere in the world, but as Terry McGuire, HALO’s SVP of Marketing explained, “We’re here because of the people. We have found a dedicated, hard-working and trained workforce, and the structures in place for continued success. We could be anywhere, but we want to be here in Whiteside County, Northwest Illinois.”
The workforce development issue has been on the region’s front burner for a while, and our response is producing results. Five years ago, local manufacturers worked with Sauk Valley Community College to create the Multicraft Extended Internship Program (MEIP). This is an Associate’s Degree program with a curriculum designed by the business sector and college, that allows for students to work three days a week in the manufacturing sector, and take classes two days a week. The student earns money while studying, and has the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom with hands on experience. The program has increased enrollment each year since inception. Combining MEIP program with the region’s other available workforce development programs such as the Whiteside Area Career Center, the CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities), the Morrison Tech Innovation Center and programs offered in the area’s high schools, has been helpful in fulling the trained worker pipeline.
In addition to business retention, the region has been seeing a number of new business locations. In 2019, commodity processor Best Cobb has decided to relocate its headquarters to the region, and has completed the first of a three-phase project. According to Gary Sandrock, Best Cobb’s CEO, “We are locating here for a number of reasons, location being very important. From the Whiteside Region’s central U.S. location, we have easy access to supply chain and our customers. The logistics here are exceptional. Five interstates in the region and access to major rail carriers allows us to reach not only our U.S. customers, but also those around the world.”
The business relocation trend has continued going into 2020. Last week, the Timken Company announced it had acquired Diamond Chain in Indianapolis, Indiana and would be moving the business to Fulton, Illinois where its Timken Drives subsidiary is located. The relocation will create 130 new jobs in the Whiteside/Northwest Illinois Region and allow for greater synergy with the Timken Drives facility. The location allows for Timken to tap into the region’s workforce of over 500,000 in a region known for metal fabrication.
The region also has its share of local incentives to provide businesses – both existing and those looking to relocate. The Whiteside Carroll Enterprise Zone (WCEZ) provides businesses with tax incentives that contribute to a project feasibility and success. Last year, the WCEZ had 19 projects with an investment $38.6 million and job creation of 430 positons. Gary Camarano, Whiteside’s Economic Development Director noted, “The Enterprise Zone is our region’s most successful local incentive. It provides abatements on local taxes and building materials sales tax exemption, as well as machinery tax credits. Since 2000, we have had 488 projects in the Enterprise Zone, investing $453 million dollars and creating 8,526 jobs. It really works and is available to homegrown-based businesses as well as relocations. In addition to our local incentives, the State’s Department of Commerce has its EDGE Grants and revolving loan funds available. The combination is a very powerful incentive for the business community.”
Camarano added, “The cost of doing business in the Whiteside County/Northwest Illinois Region is also advantageous. Shovel ready sites are available and affordable, with acreage in most cases priced between $15,000 and $20,000, and labor cost run approximately 20 percent lower than large metros. The combination of a lower cost of doing business and the absence of major market headaches – high taxes, congestion, social issues – makes our marketplace attractive. The Whiteside Region is an hour and a half from Chicagoland, and you can easily reach the world from our region. Road, rail, air, water and high speed internet, all readily available.”
The region is home to a number of businesses that excel in international trade because of the region’s ease of reaching customers worldwide. Wahl Clipper, a 100-year-old business headquartered in the region and recipient of the Governor’s 2018 Award for Exporting, is a dominant name in the worldwide market for personal grooming equipment. HALO Branded Solutions has grown from its two founders to over 1,700 employees and 70,000 satisfied customers worldwide, and ASTEC Mobile Screens ships heavy machinery worldwide from its Whiteside Region location.
The region also knows what it’s good at. It’s not trying to be all things to everybody. The Whiteside Economic Development tag line is ‘We Grow Things, We Make Things, We Move Things.’ Camarano points out, “Like the State of Illinois, manufacturing, agriculture and logistics are our bread and butter. Agribusiness, and all its inputs and outputs thrive here. The region has a long tradition in metal fabrication, mobile machinery fabrication, electronics, logistics and access to the world markets are what we are known for.”
Businesses find that the Whiteside/Northwest Illinois Region is not a place, it’s a solution. For more information about the Whiteside County/Northwest Illinois Region visit Nwillinoisadvantage.com or contact Gary Camarano at (815) 772-5182 or firstname.lastname@example.org.