Brian's Column 01-23-2015

Two events recently started me thinking even more than I normally do about our region’s economy. On Wednesday, Highland Community College’s Leadership Institute met in the meeting space of one of my buildings. They discussed issues facing Freeport and the surrounding region, obstacles to economic progress, and catalysts needed for growth. Then, I spent Thursday morning with The Community Development Fund of Galena at the Desoto House. Jo Daviess County leaders presented issues facing the Jo Daviess County and Galena economy and community as well as progress that has been made recently.

A cause for concern for many leaders in the 89th district is the shrinking labor force. I can think, in particular, of a business opportunity I had recently, but, to move forward, I had to be sure I had an adequate labor pool to draw from. After weeks of research on the part of my staff, we determined we wouldn’t be able to hire enough people with the right skill set, so we had to allow the opportunity to pass us by. Our shrinking labor force is not from a lack of strong families and talented young people. However, many of our young local talent go to college and then seek employment in cities with higher paying jobs and with better social activities. And while I love our region, I can’t blame them. Most college grads these days are saddled with seemingly insurmountable college debt and those urban salaries combined with the opportunity to grow their careers seem pretty alluring.

We have to ask ourselves, what can we do to keep them here and to draw in new talent from across the state and country? Our promise of easy commutes and little traffic won’t do the trick. And neither will our current unemployment rates. So what will?

A good start would be building on our existing higher educational institutions by introducing or further developing internship and apprenticeship programs into the region. We need more programs similar to the ones already developed by district-wide organizations to continue to inspire local students to be successful as well as encouraging them to develop connections to the community, leadership expertise, and skills related to their chosen fields.

Our region needs more of what I saw on Wednesday at the Leadership Institute—young professionals learning how to affect change in our area—and more of what I saw on Thursday in Galena—city, county, and state leaders joining forces to develop a unified view of economic obstacles and ways those obstacles can be overcome.

And we need more than just the leaders to join forces. We need young people to imagine great ideas and then implement them. We need business people to continue to grow their businesses, hire new employees, and then reinvest in the community. We need retirees, with their wisdom acquired over a lifetime, to mentor the next generation.

Economic change requires action. And action requires people. “No man is an island,” wrote John Donne, late sixteenth and early seventeenth century poet, “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Each individual in our region has the opportunity to make a positive impact; and each choice will have a ripple effect. We can stimulate our region’s economy, but it will require every person making a choice to contribute.

If you participated in an internship or an apprenticeship program, let me hear your story and the benefits of your experience on Facebook this week.


As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or email us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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