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The big picture in Southwestern Illinois: There’s no mistaking progress

grubaugh new picBy DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    Change can be good. Progress even better. And when the progress is growth, continuing and prosperous, what community doesn’t like to see change?
    Producing our Year in Review section each year gives me a chance to refresh myself on the goings-on in Metro East, and it allows community leaders a moment to crow over positive developments.
    Sadly, there are limits to space and not everyone’s comments made it into the edition you’re now reading. Some of those tidbits, though, are worth sharing.
    For instance, Edwardsville’s Economic Development Director Walter Williams told me about the changing nature of the town in which we both live. After a long history as a bedroom community, it is now appropriate to call the city an “employment center,” he said.
    “We have close to 12,500 workers coming in to the city to work, in addition to the 12,000-plus people who both live and work in Edwardsville,” Williams told me.
    Edwardsville’s estimated population was 24,967, according to the most recent United States census, which means the number of people who simply live in the city is now surpassed by the number of people who work there.
    Some 6,000 people work at the Gateway Commerce Center warehouse district, which should add several hundred employees to its ranks in the coming year with the ongoing construction of at least three new buildings — all in Edwardsville.
    Here is another tidbit worth passing along from recent interviews. Fairview Heights Economic Development Director Paul Ellis and I talked about the city celebrating its 50th year in 2019. Most of those years have been spent setting the standard for growth. For Fairview, the growth began with the opening in 1974 of the east side’s first regional mall, St. Clair Square. The commercialization boom began, but it was supercharged the following year with the opening of the Metro East leg of Interstate 64. Shoppers found their way to Fairview Heights in droves, and still do.
    That accessibility has allowed towns just east of there — O’Fallon and Shiloh — to get more notice. For a long time now, those communities have been two of the fastest-growing in the region.
    O’Fallon is now advocating the idea of developing its eastern “front door,” the available acreage along I-64 between Exit 19 (the Scott Air Force Base main access) and Exit 21 (the new interchange built at Rieder Road, another access to Scott AFB).
    Could O’Fallon and St. Clair County see a light-manufacturing boom like we’ve seen in Edwardsville? Everyone believes the answer rests in what happens the next 20 years, about the time it has taken to develop what has transpired in Madison County.
    Just imagine, if you can, 6,000 warehousing jobs being added to the more than 13,000 military and civilian jobs that already exist at Scott AFB.
    Development does come with costs. Infrastructure, policing and community services, taxation and greenspace all can be affected, but if it’s coordinated appropriately, progress can be a good thing. For the traditionalists who shun growth for the sake of keeping things as they are, I’m afraid those days are numbered in Metro East. Increasingly, Southwestern Illinois is getting on the map.
    Happy new year to all of us — and many more ahead.
    Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 977-6865.

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