MATTOON – With the labor market opening up and new businesses being prepared, Coles County’s economy is expected to grow and expand in the new year, while existing businesses still appear to be struggling with staff shortages and inflation issues.
Even if companies are understaffed, Coles together President Angela Griffin said that in August 2020 the unemployment rate in the county was 8.3%. In October 2021, the unemployment rate was 3.9%.
“For us, this has been the collaboration between sectors of local government, the school district, the business community and the chambers of commerce,” Griffin said. “We are all on the same page and we are all working together to complement each other’s efforts. “
Griffin said there has been more activity than expected with respect to new industries and businesses developing projects in the county, as well as existing businesses expanding their operations and looking for growth opportunities.
” Big things ahead “
Ed Dowd, Executive Director of the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce, said he was optimistic about the future at Mattoon as new businesses like the North American Lighting Plant, which is expected to employ up to 100 workers over the next year, prepare to open.
“We have had an incredible downtown revitalization plan that has been led by the city to improve the streetscape in Mattoon and that will continue next year,” said Dowd. “Moving forward, we have so many great things to come.”
Dowd said current companies like the Mars Petcare and Bimbo Bakery factories have expanded to produce other items like cat treats and Thomas’s bagels, but continue to look for new employees.
Dowd said new developments were underway at the former LSC Communications Printing Co. factory after commercial real estate company Phoenix Investors purchased the property early last year and planned to renovate the facility to accommodate new businesses.
Other projects coming up this year include the new Career Innovation Center located in the former Consolidated Communications headquarters downtown. The official name of the center is LIFT, which stands for Leaders Innovating for Tomorrow.
Each of the six floors of the building owned and operated by the Mattoon School District host a variety of hands-on professional programs for students from across the region; include a laboratory with a casting room and areas for developing radio production, digital sound design, cinematography and video production.
Dowd said the city is also working on creating incentive packages for people relocating to the area, which could include tax breaks on real estate, free water and sewage for one year as well as coupons. ‘local businesses and restaurants.
“We don’t have unemployment, we actually have underemployment,” said Dowd. “We are working on original ideas to inspire people to come, find a job, settle here and be part of the fabric of the community. “
Doug Abolt, General Manager of the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce, said the city is doing well now and is optimistic for the future with the planned addition of GDB International’s recycling plant to the old Trailmobile facility. The new operation is expected to create 75 new jobs.
“We have opened local businesses and the local shop, buy local mindset is growing along with the number of events being held in our place,” said Abolt. “We support our businesses and growth in this area is important to residents.
Abolt said another company, Apex Clean Energy, was securing land north of Charleston for its Coles wind project,
The project, which is expected to include up to 70 turbines, has the potential to create more jobs. The biggest challenge, said Abolt, is labor availability and filling vacancies.
Abolt said organizations at Mattoon, like Elevate CCIC Inc., an innovation hub for new businesses and entrepreneurs, and ongoing projects like LIFT will also benefit the Charleston School District and residents of the region looking for a career path or to learn new skills.
“The trades are good jobs for kids coming out of high school, but there just aren’t any easy fixes,” Abolt said. “The population is declining, the pandemic has hurt Illinois’ business environment, and it is not as attractive to new businesses as neighboring states.”
Business leaders learn to adapt
Seeking to hire 10 new employees, Kirby Johnson, co-owner of Gavina Graphics in Charleston, said it has been a challenge over the past six months to hire new employees and keep some employees.
“Everyone is sort of fighting for the people who want to work right now and to some extent we are struggling to keep our staff fully employed as the competition for employees is pretty tough,” Johnson said. . “There are a lot of transitional pressures on these positions because if you have a blast you can be hired right now. “
Johnson, who co-owns the business with his wife Bridget, said their company mainly creates print graphics and banners for professional sports teams and concert tours, so when the pandemic first hit, many of their customers canceled orders because mass gatherings were canceled.
As in-person attendance at games and concerts returned to somewhat normal conditions last summer, Johnson said they had had to raise salaries by around 30% in the past six months to maintain and attract employees.
“It’s unheard of for companies to have such wage growth,” Johnson said. “Inflationary pressures in wage growth are not transitory and we need to pass them on to our customers in order to be able to pay employees.
Tyler Bennett, Vice President of Lester Building Systems, said they had done well last year, but rely heavily on their employees who they ask to work overtime as well as hire temporary staff to deal with shortages.
In business for about 75 years and focused primarily on making pole barns, Bennett said he had problems last year getting materials processed from their supplier.
“As a company we’ve kind of moved away from the skilled trades and while it’s already happening before the pandemic, you only encounter people who are struggling to perform the basic functions of their business,” said Bennett. “We have had our own difficulties, but there are companies that struggle a lot more than us. ”
As for Johnson, he said there hasn’t been much resistance from their customers, but the price of supplies to create their graphics has gone up, making each order more expensive and their cash flow seemingly. more unstable.
“Even though the pandemic just magically ended tomorrow, you can’t start a lot of these events in mass arenas a day later, they have to be planned months in advance,” Johnson said. “We are just following the news and the pandemic and hope that it wears off.”