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Local
County population drops; city of Kankakee's plunges

Kankakee County’s population declined nearly across the board, but the biggest hit came in the City of Kankakee where a 12.6 percent plunge brought the municipality below a 25,000 threshold.

The population for Kankakee County — according to figures finally released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday — dropped from 113,449 in 2010 to 107,502 in 2020, a reduction of 5.2 percent.

However, in Kankakee — Kankakee County’s most populous municipality — its population fell from 27,537 in the 2010 count to 24,052 in 2020, a 12.6 percent plunge.

Bradley and Bourbonnais also experienced declines in populations, but Manteno rose ever so slightly.

Bradley lost 476 residents, going from 15,895 residents in 2010 to 15,410 in 2020. In Bourbonnais, the village’s count went from 18,690 in 2010 to 18,164, a drop of 526.

Manteno experienced a miniscule rise in population: from 9,204 in 2010 to 9,210 in 2020.

Residents being missed in the decennial count due to the pandemic is most certainly likely, but these numbers could have long-lasting ramifications in terms of federal money coming back to Kankakee County as those formulas are based upon census data.

RECOUNT TALK

Kankakee Mayor Chris Curtis is already kicking around the idea of a recount.

For Kankakee, the drop in population is more than just a loss of residents. The city could also be faced with the prospect of losing what is called “Home Rule” authority.

Home Rule is a governing tool that allows municipalities with populations greater than 25,000 to complete some function without requesting voter approval, such as raising the sales-tax rate or selling bonds.

Kankakee has done both in recent years with needing only a Kankakee City Council vote, rather than approval through a citywide ballot referendum.

If a community drops below the required 25,000 residents, Illinois law says “such municipality shall continue to have the powers of a home rule unit until it elects by referendum not to be a home rule unit.”

The city would have two calendar years to hold a referendum vote to determine if Home Rule could remain or whether it would be eliminated, according to state law. Such a referendum would likely happen in November 2022.

“We were expecting a decline, but that dramatic? No,” Mayor Curtis said Friday. “Is that an accurate number per the census count?”

Curtis said the process to determine if it is an accurate number will begin ASAP.

“We are not going to live with these numbers. It affects federal funding on a number of levels,” he said.

Barbi Brewer-Watson, executive director of Kankakee’s Economic & Community Development Department, said the problem is these numbers are with a community for 10 years, meaning they have long-range impacts.

She believed the city’s population would drop by 5 percent to 6 percent — not 12.

“Are they saying they got to every household?” she said. “I would question that. ... We’ll be working to pull some data together to challenge these numbers. This is disappointing.”

EXPECTED DECLINE

In the county’s northern area, Manteno Mayor Tim Nugent, who is also the president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, said there is no question there has been an undercount. But, he said, the undercount has not been limited to Kankakee County, it is across the state and the nation, meaning every community is in the same boat.

“I can’t say I’m surprised or shocked,” he said of the data. “These numbers go along with the statewide declines in general.”

Nugent said the people of Illinois are their own worst enemy.

“We tell everyone how bad we are and then we are surprised when we see numbers like these,” he said. “We as a state do a terrible job marketing ourselves. Illinois has a lot to offer. ... We have to take a look at ourselves. Condemning our area is not a good marketing program.”

Nugent said the county is not without problems, but he said so many residents make it their mission to tear it down. He said perhaps it dates back to the years of economic decline the 1970s and 1980s.

“Old habits are hard to break,” he said.

Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore said there is no way the village has fewer residents today that it had 10 years ago.

“We’ve seen too many houses built. It’s an impossibility,” he said. “For Bradley and Bourbonnais to go down in population ... commonsense would tell you otherwise. These numbers just don’t jibe.”

Bradley Mayor Mike Watson said the lower figure doesn’t surprise him. He said conducting a census count during a pandemic could only lead to lower participation.

“We believe we have more residents than that, but there is no question people have moved out of Kankakee County,” he said. “We have to see if there is something we can do about that.”


Illinois
Census data shows more urban concentration, population drops in most counties in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD — Nearly every county in Illinois lost population over the past decade, mirroring a national trend of greater concentrations of people leaving rural areas and moving to larger metropolitan areas.

That’s according to the latest numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau showing detailed population numbers from the 2020 census for cities, counties and small geographic areas.

In April, the Census Bureau released statewide numbers that determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state receives. That report showed Illinois’ overall population had shrunk by 18,124 people, to a little more than 12.8 million.

That was a much smaller decline than many people had expected, but it did result in Illinois losing one congressional seat, meaning there will be only 17 districts instead of 18 when the 2022 elections are held.

The new data released Thursday shows in much greater detail exactly where the population changes occurred. Those numbers are intended to be used to redraw congressional and state legislative district lines so that all residents are represented as equally as possible in both state and federal governments.

But the data also has a number of other purposes beyond local representation in government.

“Results from the 2020 census will be used for the next 10 years to shape the future of our country,” Acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin said during a video news conference Thursday. “Local leaders can use this data to make decisions such as where to build roads and hospitals, and how to help our nation recover from the pandemic. These results will also help inform how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds will be distributed each year nationwide.”

The data were released in what the Census Bureau calls its “legacy format,” meaning it can be read only in sophisticated programs that are used mainly by academics, government officials and others who work with large databases. It was distributed to state officials and legislative leaders in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

But some of the summary data that was released showed the broad trends.

For example, all 10 of the largest cities in the United States gained population since the 2010 census. That includes Chicago, which grew by a little less than 2 percent.

New York City remained the largest city in the U.S., with 8.8 million people, while Los Angeles County remained the largest county, with more than 10 million people.

Nationally, the areas with the most growth areas were located in the southern and western portions of the country. But more than half of all counties in the U.S. saw population declines.

Within Illinois, Cook County and its surrounding collar counties all grew by less than 5 percent. The same was true for Carroll County in northwestern Illinois, McLean and Champaign counties in central Illinois, and Effingham and Williamson counties in southern Illinois.

Grundy County, on the southwest edge of the Chicago metropolitan area, was the fastest-growing county in the state at over 10 percent. And Johnson County in southern Illinois had a growth rate between 5 and 10 percent.


Local
Riverside hikes minimum wage — immediately

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the current minimum wage rate in Illinois. 

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County’s largest employer is not waiting for the state’s new minimum wage hike to go into effect before raising its wages.

Riverside Healthcare announced Wednesday that it has recently moved to raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour, stating it is in part a proactive attempt to retain and recruit talent, while at the same time providing a wage that “reflects the changing economic environment.”

The plan went into place on July 11.

The increased pay rate does not affect those earning above this compensation level.

With a workforce of more than 3,000, Riverside Healthcare is Kankakee County’s largest employer.

Currently, the state’s minimum wage is $11 per hour. The wage level is set to increase to $12 per hour on Jan. 1, 2022, and will increase by an additional $1 per hour until it reaches $15 per hour in 2025.

An employee making $11 an hour and working a 40-hour week, their weekly pay would be $440 or $22,880 per year. When the wage is bumped up to $15 an hour, the weekly pay increases to $600, or $31,200 a year.

“As an organization, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding care,” said Phil Kambic, Riverside’s president and CEO. “Maintaining a competitive wage structure throughout the system is one way to help us hire outstanding people and make sure our patients continue to get the care to which they have become accustomed.”

The healthcare provider’s administration added it has and will continue to participate in several salary surveys each year to ensure its compensation remains competitive within the healthcare market as well as with similar roles in competing industries throughout the region.

Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, applauded Riverside for taking this step before state requirements dictate such a move.

Nugent said throughout his visits to area manufacturers and commercial businesses, there have been other companies who have implemented similar wage adjustments.

But, he noted, when the region’s largest employer makes the move, it can provide a ripple effect, meaning more companies will follow suit.

“It’s an employee market right now,” Nugent noted. “They know their worth.”

Like many organizations, Riverside has job openings that have been a struggle to fill. The hope is that by raising wages, workers will return to work as many have not worked since the pandemic closed many businesses or reduced the number of workers.


Local
Sweet Street owners say selling shop is bittersweet

BOURBONNAIS — Sweet Street, a small-business mainstay in the heart of Bourbonnais, will still sell candy, chocolates, caramels and popcorn.

But after 28 years — beginning Monday — the long-standing candy store will not be manned by Mike, Joe or Christine Shimkus. The Bourbonnais trio has sold the business located near the intersection of Latham Drive and Convent Street.

New owners Sharon Richardson and Julie Gindy, along with Lillian Hurt, the store’s digital media and operations coordinator, will be the new faces behind the Sweet Street counter.

The Shimkus trio completed the sale to Richardson; Gindy and her husband, Jeff; Richardson’s father, Kenneth Koontz; and Richardson’s daughter, Anna, on Aug. 2.

It marks the end of a very sweet era between the Shimkuses and Kankakee County sweets lovers.

Having started their candy business at a small shop in the neighboring Walgreens plaza in January 1993, and then relocating to their existing 3,000-square-foot store at 592 Latham Drive in 2008, the Shimkuses have been a fixture here.

But as with nearly everything, the only thing constant is change.

TIME TO RETIRE

Husband-and-wife partners, Joe and Christine, both age 67, and Joe’s brother, Mike, 65, began exploring the idea of selling the business a couple years ago. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut the business down for six weeks in 2020, the movement toward selling increased.

They were a few interested parties, but no deal was made. Then one day, Sharon Richardson called Christine and wanted her advice on starting a small business.

As the conversation progressed, Christine began to think that perhaps the opportunity Richardson was looking for could be Sweet Street.

“She’s talented and creative,” Christine said of Richardson, who had been with the Bourbonnais Township Park District for nine years prior to being laid off due to the pandemic.

“I asked her, ‘Have you ever thought of Sweet Street?’” Christine said of her conversation with Richardson. She hadn’t, but they began to talk. The talks went on for months before an agreement was finally reached.

And on Monday, there will be a changing of the guard.

SAYING GOODBYE

During the past two weeks, customers have been coming into the store and thanking the Shimkuses for their business and wishing them well in their retirement.

“We didn’t realize we had touched that many people,” Christine said. “It’s such a good feeling. We believe we’ve created a legacy.”

Simply put, Joe said, “We are getting old. We’re getting tired. But it’s been a great ride.”

MAKING PEOPLE SMILE

Kathy Eagan, who is a sister of Mike and Joe, started working for them at the first store and as well as the new location.

Asked what mark they have left on the community, she thought for only a moment.

“We’ve made a lot of people fat,” she joked. Turning a bit more serious, she said what the store has done is put smiles on people’s faces.

Christine said there is simply no easy way to end. She has already shed plenty of tears.

“It’s a bittersweet kind of thing. ... This is our baby,” she said.

It was Eagan who actually had the idea for the store. The Shimkuses were ending their operations of four video rental stores in the Lansing and South Holland areas as that industry was beginning its decline.

As they were searching for another venture, Eagan suggested a Bourbonnais-based candy store. The more the family talked, the more intrigued they became. Although no one had any experience with such a venture, they were willing to give it a shot.

They relocated to Bourbonnais and opened their first location. It was a success. After several years, they found they needed more space and the new location was constructed.

They began popping corn and making chocolates. They have been busy ever since.

“I want to know what it feels like to have two days off in a row,” Joe said.

But Joe said he’s loved every minute. He said coming into Sweet Street nearly every day has never felt like work.

“It’s been a passion. Without that passion, you can’t be a success. It’s been passion which has driven us.”

Said Christine: “Being here is a lifestyle. The small-town feel, that’s what we wanted.”

NEW CHAPTER IN LIFE

All three acknowledge they will have separation anxiety. There is no way around that fact.

But they said they wanted to retire while there was still plenty of time to enjoy retirement. No one can blame them for that.

“This store has been on our minds 24/7,” said Joe. “This is our pride and joy. This has been our home. I know Sharon has the same values.”

Brenda Hargrove, 63, a 25-year employee, ended her candy career on Friday. She plans to get a part-time job somewhere.

While not officially part of the Shimkus family, she is at least an honorary member.

“I’ve been adopted,” she said. They have all been together so many years, they know what each other is thinking.

She has no question the candy shop will continue to succeed.

“The customers will still come,” she said. “I don’t believe a lot will change here.”

Mike Shimkus said it is simply time for a new adventure.

“We are simply entering a new chapter in life,” he said. “I never saw myself become a candy store owner, but it’s certainly worked out well.”


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