Gov. Blagojevich, standing alongside
business and community leaders from throughout southeastern
Illinois, also laid out his aggressive Opportunity Returns strategy
to bring increased entrepreneurship and economic opportunity to the
region. His announcement comes in the wake of lower unemployment
numbers statewide, including 6 percent in the Southeast region,
which has seen its unemployment rate drop 0.7 percent, down from 6.7
percent a year ago. In 2005, Illinois is expected to create between
65,000 and 75,000 jobs.
"Opportunity Returns is working for
the people who live and work in southeastern Illinois, in the same
way that we're seeing tangible results throughout the state," Gov.
Blagojevich said. "Unemployment is going down, and businesses are
creating jobs and putting people back to work. Companies like HN
Automotive know the value of the Illinois work force, the strength
of our state's economy and the competitive advantage of locating
within this state. It understands that it is has a stronger company
when Illinois is part of its business plan. Partnering with HN
Automotive is a classic example of how Opportunity Returns is
designed to work. We must invest in strong, vibrant companies that
choose to invest in Illinois and create a stronger future for both
our businesses and our hardworking men and women."
Effingham-based HN Automotive Inc.
specializes in precision machining and assembly for a large number
of companies throughout the auto industry. With the rapid growth of
the company through the past two years and the state's strategic
investment, the company made the decision to purchase its current
location and to retain and grow its operations in Illinois.
The Illinois Department of Commerce
and Economic Opportunity is administering the state's investment
package. It includes a grant to help purchase the building, a grant
to the city of Effingham for the construction of an access road and
a municipal parking lot, an Employer Training Investment Program
grant that will help enhance the skills of its work force, and
various enterprise zone benefits.
"We're pleased to partner with Gov.
Blagojevich, the state and local governments to expand our
operations in Illinois," said J.R. Elder, vice president of
manufacturing at HN Automotive. "We believe that our location and
the skilled local work force offer a competitive advantage in the
new global economy, and it was an easy decision to build on the
success we've already experienced here in Effingham."
The Opportunity Returns strategy
that Gov. Blagojevich laid out Monday for the Southeast region
includes four goals to specifically address the economic development
needs of the region: Invest in business development; strengthen
education, job training and technology; expand economic
infrastructure; and support key regional industries. The Southeast
region includes Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Edgar,
Effingham, Fayette, Jasper, Lawrence, Marion, Moultrie and Richland
"I know that Southeast Illinois has
so much potential for new growth and development," Gov. Blagojevich
said Monday. "And that's why we're announcing this Opportunity
Returns plan today -- to lay out a strategy to further unlock the
potential of this region. We must invest in business development and
support key regional industries; it's critical to strengthen
education, job training and technology to prepare local workers for
the jobs of the future; and infrastructure must be improved to
better support existing business and make this region more
attractive to recruit new business. While every region has
challenges, we're seeing such positive results of increased
investment and new hiring in southeastern Illinois, and I believe
that a new day is dawning for a brighter, more hopeful future for
all of us."
In addition to the state's support
for HN Automotive, other regional projects Gov. Blagojevich
announced as part of his Opportunity Returns strategy are:
- Supporting Henderson Trucking and
other regional employers. Recognizing the competitiveness of the
new global economy, Gov. Blagojevich is providing $2.5 million in
Opportunity Returns support to Henderson Trucking in Salem that is
helping to retain 550 important jobs. The Illinois Department of
Commerce and Economic Opportunity is providing a more than
$900,000 investment deal to Imperial Trailer Manufacturing in
Olney that is creating 50 new jobs and retaining 20 jobs and
nearly $258,000 to Boge North America in
Paris that is creating 29 new jobs and retaining 200 jobs.
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Investing in Marathon Refinery's work
force. As one of the most significant employers in the region, the
state is supporting the refinery's work force and the employees by
advancing the skills of 600 local workers with a $475,000 grant
through the Employee Training Investment Program. Additional grants
to companies in the region include $50,000 to Eastern Illinois
University-Business and Technical Institute to train 260 workers,
more than $11,000 to Radiac Abrasives in Salem to train 210
employees, and $7,000 to Swan Corporation in Centralia to upgrade
the skills of 12 employees. Grants to the region have totaled nearly
$860,000 and trained more than 3,600 local workers.
Projecting worker shortages and training employees to meet
expected needs. A $170,000 planning grant from Gov. Blagojevich's
Critical Skills Training initiative is helping regional leaders
identify current and projected shortages of skilled workers to
ensure the work force is trained to meet the employment demand
both today and in the years to come. A training grant will be
announced when those occupations have been identified.
Establishing the Southeastern Illinois Economic Development
Authority. Gov. Blagojevich recently signed legislation creating
this powerful new economic engine to spur jobs and economic
development projects in 16 counties across greater Southeastern
Illinois. The agency is armed with an array of valuable economic
tools, including the ability to provide financing ranging from a
few thousand dollars to assist a micro-sized company with startup
costs to several million dollars for major corporate expansion and
relocation, as well as technical assistance and advice.
Developing the Lincolnland Agri-Energy ethanol plant and other
agribusiness opportunities. With the help of Gov. Blagojevich's
$4.8 million grant through the Renewable Fuels Development
Program, the new 40-million-gallon ethanol plant recently began
operations in Palestine, employing 32 workers and providing a
welcome boost to the region's crop producers.
Launching a Regional Technology Center in Centralia. With the
recent completion of the new Regional Technology Center in
downtown Centralia, Gov. Blagojevich has provided a $470,000
Opportunity Returns grant for computers and operating costs for
this important new community learning facility that makes computer
technology training readily available to people in the region.
Approximately 1,500 people will use the facility this year.
Upgrading community infrastructure, water and sewer systems. From
Effingham to Westfield and Martinsville to Shumway, nearly 20
communities in the region are receiving grants that are providing
tangible economic benefits, upgrading vital infrastructure and
improving the quality of life for countless residents. Nearly $4
million in Community Development Assistance Program grants have
been given through this vital community-building program. Gov.
Blagojevich will continue to provide these critical investments.
"Since 1995, HN Automotive has gone
from 20 to 95 employees, which is a great testament to the growing,
thriving entrepreneurial spirit in Illinois," said Jack Lavin,
director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic
Opportunity. "We know the return on our investments in this company
will be exponential. Gov. Blagojevich has shown a commitment to
business owners and residents alike through his Opportunity Returns
program. By supporting strong companies, we can create good jobs
that support Illinois families and keep our economy vibrant."
Opportunity Returns regional economic development strategy is
the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in
Illinois' history. Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic
development just doesn't work, the governor has divided the state
into 10 regions, each with a regional team that is empowered and
expected to rapidly respond to opportunities and challenges.
Opportunity Returns is about
tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more
marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to businesses.
It is about upgrading the skills of the local workforce, increasing
the access to capital, opening new markets, improving
infrastructure, and creating and retaining jobs. Opportunity Returns
is about successfully partnering with companies and communities,
both large and small, to help all of Illinois reach its economic