SmartAsset released its annual report on the best places to work in manufacturing and Decatur ranked 7th out of nearly 400 metro areas analyzed. SmartAsset explained that “we analyzed nearly 400 metro areas across the following metrics: manufacturing as a percentage of the workforce, job growth from 2016 to 2019, job growth from 2018 to 2019, income growth from 2016 to 2019, income growth from 2018 to 2019, housing costs as a percentage of income and the September 2021 unemployment rate.”
In ranking Decatur 7th SmartAsset stated: “Manufacturing jobs make up 17.98% of Decatur’s workforce, ranking 60th in this study. This area is also in the top 10 for two metrics measuring job growth: sixth for three-year growth (30.90%) and 10th for one-year growth (14.88%).”
The results of the study are encouraging to read and should make residents realize that our community ranks much higher on the national scene, in several categories and studies, than naysayers will acknowledge.
• WHILE we can applaud our manufacturing firms for getting high rankings for our community and give a standing ovation to the good news that emerges from Decatur, the big problem we face is a state problem, not a city problem — and we would be a lot better off if the state would get its act together! It is hard for any community in Illinois to overcome the terrible image our state has in the nation — and, I’m sorry to point out that image is justified.
According to watchdog Illinois Policy, “Illinois is ranked as the second-most corrupt state in the country and government corruption has cost Illinois taxpayers over $10.6 billion since 2000. Taxpayers will continue to be on the hook for these costs until our elected officials are held accountable.” Also, “We are now #1 in the nation for taxation for the middle-class. Not something to be proud of.”
Little wonder that people are leaving our state in droves and that has impact on our community as we watch our population shrink, yet the safety services and community maintenance continue to increase in cost. Unless we attract and retain people in our community the financial squeeze on city and county governments will eventually suffocate our taxpayers. According to a recent analysis of the University of Illinois Extension, Decatur lost 7.4% of its population during the last decade — ranking us among the cities with the greatest loss.
• DECATUR has so much to offer, but the business owners and executives I’ve talked with in recent years have repeatedly told me that the reason they are not investing or expanding here is not because anything Decatur has done, but what has happened, and continues to happen, at the state level. I’ve mentioned before in this column that a top executive at Caterpillar told me, and also a gathering at a Chamber meeting, that if his firm was not already located in Illinois, they would not be coming here — because of what’s happened in state government, not anything that Decatur has done. Unfortunately, Decatur’s future success and population expansion is negatively impacted by what goes on in state government. We have the tools and people in place to attract and welcome new and expanding businesses, and we are meeting with some success in attracting new jobs, but there could be a lot more success if state government was more responsive and responsible. • WHEN WE emerge from the COVID-19 Pandemic, and we will, we will have to be very creative and accelerate the implementation of a lot of what we’ve learned about ourselves, our community and our economy during this rough time. I have faith in the next generation because I see them involved and having unlimited energy. I see a lot of creativity in the young people and we need them to stay in, or come back, to Decatur to help us rise to new economic and creative levels.
• BACK IN THE early 1960s, I started my business in Decatur and I was filled with many dreams of the future and what I wanted to do with that future. Decatur has given me countless opportunities and I don’t regret, regardless of the difficulty in navigating increasingly burdensome demands on business from state and federal governments, of having my business in Decatur, Illinois. If I had it to do over again, I would choose Decatur to start my business. What we have to offer goes far beyond dollars and cents. If you want to know what America is about, look at Decatur and Central Illinois — the heart of our nation…in more ways than one, I love the people in Decatur and Central Illinois and they have been so good to me over the years.
• WHO IS LEAVING ILLINOIS? Kevin Bessler, staff reporter for The Center Square, recently wrote that working-age Illinoisans continue to relocate to other states.
An analysis by the University of Illinois Extension looked at demographic trends and revealed the number of people aged 25 to 39 in Illinois decreased, one of the few states in the country to see a decline. Illinois also lost population in the 40 to 59 age group.
“The U.S. population actually grew in the prime working age, young adult age cohorts, 25 to 29, 30 to 34 and 35 to 39 year olds,” said Zach Kennedy, community and economic development state specialist for the U of I Extension. Kennedy said possible reasons for the age group to leave are job opportunities, Illinois’ high taxes, weather, and something he calls “brain drain.”
“The students who went out of state for college and not return, the rate of that was second highest in Illinois,” Kennedy said. “Only New Jersey lost more of their college-aged individuals out of state who then never returned.”
In rural Illinois, only six downstate counties out of 83 gained population since 2010: Monroe, Johnson, Grundy, Carroll, Effingham, and Williamson. Three urban counties outside of the Chicago area added population, including Kendall, Champaign and McLean counties. Some of the cities with the largest population losses include East St. Louis (-31.6%), Charleston (-20.8%), Harvey (-19.6%), Aurora (-8.8%), and Decatur (-7.4%). Where are people headed? Kennedy said statistics show the top five states for population growth are Texas, Florida, California, Georgia and Washington. Only two other states have lost population since 2010, West Virginia and Mississippi.
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00.