Kankakee County has always marketed itself to those outside the area as a destination — the Kankakee River State Park, Merchant Street MusicFest and the Kankakee River for boating and fishing, to name a few.
It’s also a destination for employees commuting to jobs in Kankakee County. An astounding 19,547 people from outside the county commute to jobs here, according to numbers compiled by the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County. Those account for 44.3 percent of the number of employees working in the county and are figures from 2017, which is the latest that data is available.
“We’re finding out that a lot of the workers don’t have a clue of the things that we have in Kankakee County,” said Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, after the Alliance spoke to some of those commuters. “They work in the county but don’t live here. ‘What’s it going to take to get you to move to Kankakee County?’”
Nugent spoke at Tuesday’s Kankakee County Board meeting, giving his annual update on the Economic Alliance. Part of what the Economic Alliance is doing is aimed at convincing some of the 19,000-plus commuters to move to the county and take advantage of the amenities here.
“It’s great that you’re coming here to work,” Nugent said. “We’re glad that we’ve got the jobs. It’s nice to be a community where people are commuting to work. What would it take to get you to live here?
“We went to CSL, we went to Van Drunen [Farms], we went to four or five other different companies and asked the employer, ‘Give us 15 people that work here but don’t live here.’”
Nugent said some of the employees were very blunt. Some of the reasons were obvious, one spouse works in downtown Chicago and the other works here so they live in the middle and it makes it easier for both. But what about the ones who have the opportunity but choose to live elsewhere?
“Some of the reasons are they don’t feel we have some of the amenities,” Nugent said. “They don’t think we have the restaurants, we don’t have the nightlife, we don’t have the bike paths, we don’t have the parks. We don’t have a lot of different things they’re looking for.
“Come to find out, we have all that stuff. They just didn’t know about it. What we’re trying to do is get that information into the facilities, get that information to the human resource people so when these people are looking for festivals that they know what festivals are happenings in Kankakee County.”
The commuters might only see what’s on Interstate 57 on their way to work. The main counties for commuters include Cook, Will and Iroquois, and some from Indiana.
“We’ve got to get that information out there that there’s a lot of different things here, but it might not be in visibility of your drive back and forth to work,” Nugent said. “Those are things that we’re learning from talking to the different employees and talking to the employers.
“Working on the workforce is going to be something that is huge over the course of the next several years.”
The numbers also show that people enjoy living here and working elsewhere. There are 24,935 individuals who live in Kankakee County but work outside the county.
Nugent also reported on some substantial economic growth and expansion within the county.
Area Development magazine ranked Kankakee County 65 out of 399 metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. in economic conditions. It was ranked No. 1 last year in year-over-year growth rank and is 190 this year. Also, this year Kankakee County is ranked sixth in midterm growth, seventh in economic strength and 249 in prime workforce rank.
“We’ve got some things to do in our workforce development field and projects,” Nugent said. “... We need to continue to work and get more people trained to be able to take the jobs that are being created here.”
The county was also ranked sixth in cost of doing business by Forbes magazine.
Nugent also reported Nucor Steel announced it was going to invest $40 million in its current facility which is on top of the $180 million it’s already spending on its expansion.
“Nucor is a huge, huge partner in everything that is taking place here,” he said. “Not only in investment but the good jobs that they create. A starting-level position at Nucor Steel is about $85,000.”
Also, the new stoplight on Illinois Route 50 in front of CSL Behring should open in the next two months. It’s part of its 1.8-million-square-foot expansion. Riverside recently announced a $24 million expansion in Bourbonnais.
“We’ve got to get the information out there,” said Board Chairman Andy Wheeler on the entire report. “This area has seen a tremendous turnaround in the last five years, particularly in the last three years. We’re starting to see the fruit of a lot of labor.”