By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Developers of a half-billion-dollar railroad complex in Jerseyville are squarely behind a regional push to find the last funding to complete a four-lane U.S. 67 from Godfrey to the Quad Cities.
Both the highway and the rail hub are moving ahead independently, but officials leave no doubt about the mutual benefits of getting both done.
A large crowd gathered in Jerseyville in August for the annual meeting of Corridor 67 Inc., a civic organization formed years ago to follow the highway to completion. The last, unfinished portion of the road, more than 40 miles from just north of Godfrey to nearly Scott County, would pass through the heart of Jersey County and run alongside the planned Mid-American International Gateway Business Park. The park is to be located along the Kansas City Southern Rail on 1,400 acres south of Crystal Lake Road in Jersey. The goal is to build a rail and truck shipping hub that would help move cargo between Mexico and Jerseyville and points all around the Midwest.
Developer of the park is Stonemont Financial Group, of Atlanta, Ga. The company CEO and Managing Principal Zach Markwell said the land due diligence phase is complete and the project is moving forward in design. However, potential customers have questions.
“As we’re out talking to the users that are going to be coming to this region, their first question is about understanding the region,” he said. “Their second question is, ‘Can we get our trucks in and out of there?’”
Markwell and others spoke at the annual meeting about the critical need for infrastructure.
A feasibility study showed that the business park and rail services could reach at least 40 million consumers within a short-haul trucking distance.
“That means the entire west-central Illinois area is a mid-America gateway of its own, and that makes the completion of the entire 67 corridor a necessity,” said Shari Albrecht, director of Jerseyville Economic Development Council Inc.
Dozens of entities, at the economic council’s urging, have publicly supported the Illinois Department of Transportation’s pursuit of funding, Albrecht said.
During the meeting, IDOT officials laid out plans to seek new funding sources for highway projects, including forming a new coalition to advocate for greater investment in transportation.
The coalition would be made up of people from business, education, health care, the military and workforce groups, among others.
“They can do a more effective job of telling local legislators, who need to be taking these votes,” Justine Sydello, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Transportation, said.
The coalition would be led by an executive committee that is bipartisan and geographically diverse. She said the state already has commitments to participate from Ed Rust, the former chairman of State Farm, and Doug Oberhelman, the former CEO of Caterpillar. Further, there would be regional teams who would localize the message at their own level.
It is crucial, Sydello said, to generate sustainable revenues.
“Without action at the state level, we will be unable to maintain our existing transportation network, let alone make the strategic expansions,” she said.
The state is now thinking more about what it can do to upgrade its road network through preventative maintenance. That might mean more work on roads that are considered in better condition since it costs less to keep them up. Other roads that are considered serviceable but in poor condition will have to wait on more substantial improvements until new revenue is made available.
All that puts brand new projects further back on the burner.
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Economic developers from throughout the region have some new ideas — and a more positive attitude about doing business in Illinois — after a daylong conference in Fairview Heights.
More than 80 people attended the Downstate Illinois P3 Luncheon held in August under the auspices of The International Council of Shopping Centers at the Four Points by Sheraton in Fairview Heights. The theme this year was “Retail Done Right: Expansion and Growth in a Churning Market.”
Perhaps there is no right way to do it, given the number of avenues to be taken to attract development, from financing to marketing to understanding how companies arrive at their decisions. But participants were particularly upbeat about the possibilities.
“Do I have concerns? Absolutely. Is it doom and gloom as some like to make us think? I would say absolutely not,” Fairview Heights Mayor Mark Kupsky said.
Retailers, brokers, city officials and others shared scores of ideas.
Speakers included Dennis Maher of Buxton, a national firm that analyzes market data; Wendi Nowell, senior specialty leasing manager of CBL Properties, which owns St. Clair Square; Paul Ellis, the emcee for the day and economic development director of Fairview Heights; Renee Eicholz, of Copper Fire Bar & Eatery in Belleville; Bob Elkan, of the Westmore Group; and Gregg Medeiros, of Sugarfire Smoke House, in O’Fallon. The event was co-sponsored among others by the Illinois Business Journal.
Maher said malls are “definitely not dying, but changing across the country.” He said the important thing is to focus on driving tax revenue and supporting existing businesses, keeping in mind that the unemployment rate, now about 4 percent nationally, makes it increasingly difficult to find workers.
One in five jobs in Illinois is supported by retail, and there are almost 150,000 retail establishments across the state.
“That number is going to continue to grow,” Maher said. “Even though there are big box closings, retail and brick and mortar is still growing. That is not going to stop. People need that experience out there.”
A 9.3 percent vacancy rate is expected nationally in 2019, he said. That growth rate is forcing some retailers to look to “secondary” or less-prime locations.
“It’s becoming very competitive from a pricing perspective, and that’s where we’re going to have to help these retailers understand those markets,” he said. “Retailers may be asking for incentives but they also know that they may have to make adjustments to the way that they operate. A smaller inventory is looking more attractive — less inventory, less overhead. Those are important factors they are looking at.”
He discussed some of the newer trends in retailing including what he calls “omnichannel,” or selling goods via multiple platforms (stores, online, catalogue, etc.). The combination is not going away and, in fact, should be encouraged, Maher said, because it helps retailers reach all of their audiences.
Under what he called “aggressive retail,” Maher cautioned communities about going after a merchant that is impractical or ill-suited for a particular market.
“Make sure you’re not wasting your time on a retailer who would never step foot in your community. Make sure they are healthy and make sure they are expanding aggressively.”
Eicholz, owner of Copper Fire, began in business with the launch of Precision Practice Management Inc., a one-physician consulting firm that developed into a million dollars a year in revenue. She eventually partnered with a technology company, her current partners, 16 years ago. She and her husband are part owners of two buildings in downtown Belleville. Precision and Copper Fire are based in one of them.
Eicholz said she and her husband had no restaurant experience when they started the new business but were drawn to downtown Belleville because of a lifelong love of the area.
“Most people would say we were crazy, it was a learning experience,” she said. Both she and her husband have full-time jobs, so a key was bringing in her stepson to run the restaurant. And he has done a great job, she said.
Elkan, of St. Louis, has more than 45 years of experience in commercial development in multiple formats large and small. His notable projects have involved companies like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Hardees, Krispy Kreme, KinderCare and many others.
Elkan wants to dispel the notion that Illinois is a bad place in which to do business.
“I’m not from Illinois, I’m from Missouri, but I feel like I’ve spent 90 percent of my life in Illinois. The first project I ever did was KinderCare on Goshen Road (in Edwardsville) — and it’s still there.”
He, too, dispelled the notion that Illinois is a bad place to do business.
By ALAN J. ORTBALS
Alton will step into the spotlight on Oct. 4 when streaming service Hulu kicks off the third season of its Small Business Revolution – Main Street series.
The Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau will be holding a launch party at the WOW Furnishings and Event Center at 515 E. Third St. that night. The show is hosted by Amanda Brinkman and Ty Pennington and airs on Hulu and YouTube.
The program is sponsored by the Deluxe Corp. Deluxe was founded in 1915 as Deluxe Check Printers. It provides personalized products and services to small businesses, financial institutions and individuals. Deluxe, which calls itself a champion of small business for more than 100 years, created the Small Business Revolution – Main Street to help small businesses and the small towns they call home. Each year the company selects one town and six businesses within that town to receive $500,000 in grant money and the assistance of business consultants. Previous winners include Wabash, Ind., and Bristol Borough, Pa.
Alton was among thousands of communities across the United States nominated last year to be the focus of the show’s third season. Alton made the first cut last December when the Top 20 communities were named and survived the second cut this past January when the list was trimmed to 10. Each of those towns were visited by show representatives to get a personal tour.
Representatives of Small Business Revolution – Main Street visited Alton Jan. 18-19, interviewing small-business owners, touring the town and speaking to city officials about the community. While in town, the show’s team was treated to a reception at Old Bakery Beer Company.
Following that visit, the list of 10 hopefuls was trimmed down to five and Alton once again made the cut along with Bastrop, Texas, Amesbury, Mass., Siloam Springs, Ark., and Martinez, Calif.
Alton was named the winner of the Small Business Revolution’s Main Street contest on Feb. 27 after national voting catapulted the city into the winner’s seat. That achievement garnered a $500,000 downtown revitalization grant that was spread over six businesses as well as the city itself.
“They just fell in love with Alton,” said Brett Stawar, president and CEO of the Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau. “That was evident. I’ll never forget the day we took them into the Post Commons — the old post office now turned coffee shop — and they about fell over. Their jaws dropped to the floor. They’re from Minneapolis, which is a pretty hip place, but they were just amazed at what Alton had to offer.”
Stawar said that Alton was the largest community that show promoters had ever worked with and they found it a bit challenging to connect the city’s various business districts rather than focus on just one. They also wanted to select a broad range of business types, Stawar added.
The businesses selected by Deluxe were:
- Sham Pooches, 1735 Main St.
- Lovett’s Snoots, Fish, Chicken & Moore, 2512 College Ave.
- Bluff City Outdoors, 2813 E. Broadway
- Today’s Beauty Supply, 1415 Central Ave.
- Morrison’s Irish Pub, 200 State St.
- Lighthouse Sounds, 115 Market St.
The 10th Annual Miles for Meso 5K will take place Saturday, Sept. 22, at Simmons Hanly Conroy in Alton.
Organizers hope to top last year’s fundraising efforts in their mission to, a rare and often fatal cancer caused by asbestos exposure.