Guest Editorial

Move Your Business and Home to Downstate
Craig Hullinger, Economic Development Department of the City of Peoria

"Just outside Chicago, there’s a place called Illinois.” The State of Illinois developed this catchy slogan for its tourism marketing program to encourage Chicago-area residents to visit the Illinois located south and west of Chicago, instead of visiting Wisconsin and Michigan. The strategy aimed to keep tourism and the dollars it generates in Illinois.

The strategy need not stop at tourism, though. Communities in downstate Illinois should employ a similar strategy when attracting businesses and economic development. Outside of the Chicago metropolitan area, the cost of home ownership and renting is tremendously cheaper. The cost of doing business is also much less. Congestion, often cited as a quality-of-life issue, is virtually non-existent: “rush hour” in smaller communities is often the “rush minute.”

Demographic trends indicate the problem is only going to get worse in northeast Illinois. Of Illinois’ population of 12 million people, 8 million citizens live in or around Chicago. By 2030, Illinois is projected to grow more than 15 percent, but of the 2 million more people living here, most will be living in or near metro Chicago.

While growth is encouraging, it also comes with associated costs. Both Chicago and Illinois would be better off if some of the projected growth occurred in other Illinois communities. The addition of 2 million more people to the Chicago area will create more traffic congestion and air pollution. This will require increased capital expenditure at the federal, state, and local levels as the transportation, protective, and educational infrastructures swell to accommodate this growth. The increase in taxes needed to manage this growth rarely is appreciated by citizens.

Illinois communities outside of Chicagoland could accommodate and welcome this growth. Many communities are experiencing moderate growth at best, while many more are losing population. These smaller communities often have housing stock, roads, schools, and other infrastructure with capacity sufficient to the task.

This potential is illustrated by comparing two large metropolitan areas in Illinois. The moderately growing Peoria metropolitan area is the second largest metro area in Illinois. However, as the following table demonstrates, there are significant advantages to locating or relocating downstate:

 

   Chicago  Peoria 
 Median Home Price  $274,700  $114,900 
 Average Commute Time (2000)  35 min.  20 min. 
 "Cost of Doing Business" Rank  90th  47th 
 Cost of Living Index Composite  103.9

 96.9

 Student-Teacher Ratio  16.40  14.40

Relocating Businesses and Employees Downstate
More people are controlling their own job location. Telecommuting allows mobile professionals to flee large, congested metro areas and work and live in a pleasant environment. Freelance writers, advertising executives, entrepreneurs, artists, computer experts, and even salespeople are typical of employees who often have control of their work location.

Long gone is the requirement for manufacturers, agencies, sales forces, and consulting companies to be located in a large metropolitan area. In fact, the cost of doing so might well outweigh the benefits. The same connectivity that permits telecommuting allows business leaders the flexibility to move their entire company to smaller, more attractive communities where both the quality of life and the cost of doing business are better. The marketplace is no longer local; it’s global and requires little more than a strong technology and transportation infrastructure. This trend is accelerating and likely will continue to be popular, especially as congestion increases.

Attracting a Retiree Migration South
Moving to a downstate community also can be an excellent retirement strategy. Retirees can achieve substantial savings from the sale of their homes. With Chicago’s real estate market rocketing skyward, retirees often can turn the sale of one home into the purchase of two: a home in a moderately-sized downstate community that offers proximity to family and friends and offers all the amenities of city life, and possibly a second home for the winter months in the Sun Belt. This move is especially appealing to individuals who grew up downstate but moved to larger metropolitan areas for work reasons.
One budding strategy in attracting retirees is to build housing communities in conjunction with universities and colleges. The housing can be developed privately, with alumni and faculty targeted as purchasers. The partnership is a win-win situation: alumni bring a love of the institution and serve as a natural source of volunteers, donors, event boosters, and even students in continuing education. The city gets more homeowners and consumers in the local economy but doesn’t need to concern itself with these new citizens taking high-paying jobs or additionally taxing the local public school system. IBI

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