CSL Behring (copy)

Kankakee County’s top manufacturing employer, CSL Behring, continues to be one of the top local companies when it comes to investing in its site.

KANKAKEE — Expansion projects at CSL Behring and Nucor Steel — two of Kankakee County’s top employers — were highlighted during the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County’s annual report to the Kankakee County Board.

Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the alliance, updated county board members at Tuesday’s meeting on what developments took place in the county.

“It’s our job to do economic development for the county, to go out and solicit businesses to talk to the businesses and find out the good things, the bad things that they’re experiencing throughout the county and work with businesses to try to promote business in Kankakee County,” he said.

Among the economic successes here, Nugent highlighted the expansions at some of the area’s top employers.

“CSL Behring is expanding their wastewater treatment facility to the tune of about $50 million,” he said. “Nucor Steel, even though you don’t read about them because they completed their building a year or so ago, they are spending upwards of $50 million in more infrastructure and more investment in the county to make it easier for the truckers to get in and out of there.

“... These big companies continue to spend multi-millions of dollars to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars in 2021, here in Kankakee County and continue to make more and more investments.”

There was a total of 23 projects in the county that accounted for $256 million of capital investment and encompassed 58,000 square feet of development.

Nugent also said the Economic Alliance worked with the Greater Kankakee Airport in securing $1.6 million in capital funding from the Rebuild Illinois Improvement Program to expand the airport. He said companies like Johnsonville Sausage, CSL and Nucor will use the airport on a regular basis.

“That’s an asset that sometimes we forget about,” he said. “These companies are bringing people in all the time. ... It’s not surprising any given day to go out there and see a couple of different corporate jets that are there. For the airport to be able to continue to upgrade their facility, expand their facility it’s important.”

The ongoing project to bring natural gas to Pembroke Township and the progress on the riverfront project the City of Kankakee is working on through the Kankakee Riverfront Society are other success stories.

WORKFORCE

Kankakee County’s available workforce remains an issue. Nugent said the feedback they are hearing from local companies is that they’ve got orders and contracts, business is strong, but they just can’t get enough workers.

“That was happening way before COVID,” he said. “And we knew that the workforce was going to be a problem before COVID ever hit. Because there’s so many baby boomers that are exiting the workforce.”

The pandemic accelerated the problem as older workers who were going to stay in the workforce for another five or six years decided to retire. As of November 2021, the unemployment rate for Kankakee County was 5.0 percent compared to 5.7 percent for the state.

Nugent noted that before COVID, Kankakee County’s unemployment rate was always higher than the state average. In 2017, the county had 47,000 people in the workforce, and as of November, there were 44,100 in the workforce with the exact same unemployment of four years ago.

“So, that’s a 7 percent decline in the workforce,” Nugent said. “There’s 3,000 jobs that were filled back then that are not being filled now because we just don’t have the workforce. We need more workers. We need more population. We need more people to live in Kankakee County to take the jobs that we’ve got.

“We’ve got good jobs in manufacturing. We’ve got high unemployment in manufacturing. Those are good jobs for people to have. ... We need to be able to try to get more people here to take the jobs.”

HOUSING

Nugent said the area housing market has been hot, as days on the market for homes has gone down 47 percent, and the total sales volume is up 18 percent. But the county needs to build new homes.

In the early 2000s, there were approximately 600 new houses built a year in the county. That has slowed considerably since the 2008 recession.

“Over the last 10, 11, 12 years, we’ve been lucky to build 100 houses in the whole county,” Nugent said. “... Those years that we’ve built 30 to 40 houses, for a county our size, that’s just not enough.”

The new housing numbers for 2021 aren’t in yet, but they will be a little higher. The county had just 70 new houses built in 2020. Nugent said it correlates to needing more workers — they need new homes for those people to live. He said it needs to be a combination of single family homes and dwellings that will attract millennials and those looking to retire. There are 400-plus lots in subdivisions in the county that are available for development.

“We need to do what we can do in order to try to spur some economic development in the housing market,” Nugent said. “And that will, hopefully, solve some of our issues for the people that need to be living here in order to take some jobs.”

Associate Editor

Chris Breach is the Associate Editor of The Daily Journal and the editor of the business section. A graduate of Indiana University, Breach has more than 25 years experience in newspapers. He can be reached at cbreach@daily-journal.com.