In Beloit and Rockford, job expansions were announced, but ServiCom closed
I've been thinking about last week's economic news in Winnebago County and in Rock County, Wisconsin. It's mostly good, mixed with a bit of bad.
Good: We learned that Amazon is expanding its Amazon Air freight operation at Chicago Rockford International Airport, which means 200 to 300 new employees will be hired, doubling the current workforce there.
I believe that this expansion, which involves construction of a 120,000-square-foot addition to an existing 72,000-square-foot warehouse, is only the beginning of Amazon's growth at RFD as e-commerce continues to boom.
Out of 20 airports used by the retail giant's Amazon Air, RFD is ranked third, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara says. The airport is the 22nd-ranking cargo airport in the U.S. by cargo volume.
Rockford is also home to UPS's second-largest airfreight hub, and business is soaring there as well.
The airport is situated perfectly to serve as the main freight airport for the middle of the country, close to Chicago but without the delays and high costs associated with using O'Hare International Airport.
As e-commerce continues to grow, the airport board's decision years ago to concentrate primarily on airfreight expansion is paying off. The airport is the biggest job generator in the region — it added 1,000 jobs in each of the past two years.
Good: (I'll explain in a minute.) We also learned last week from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. that Seal-Rite Door, which makes custom residential doors in Rockford, will move from Falcon Road to a $16 million, 105,000-square-foot building on the northeast corner of Willowbrook and Stateline roads in the Wisconsin Stateline Industrial Park. The company has about 80 employees in Rockford.
The new building will allow the door company to expand and grow the number of jobs in the future.
The WEDC is providing up to $250,000 in tax credits to Seal-Rite, the development corporation said.
Good: Mercyhealth CEO Javon Bea cut the ribbon on the $505 million state-of-the-art Javon Bea Hospital and Physician Clinic-Riverside. This is the most expensive construction project in Rockford's history. The complex is expected to create as many as 450 permanent jobs and to spur economic development in both Rockford and Loves Park. The health care complex is in the city of Rockford on East Riverside Boulevard east of Interstate 90; Loves Park is across the street.
Bad: Call center company ServiCom closed its third and last call center in the Rockford area, shutting down its operation on North Alpine Road in Machesney Park without informing its workers first. ServiCom, a subsidiary of a New Jersey company, closed a different Machesney Park call center and one in Rockford at the end of September, also without informing workers in advance. Hundreds have been put out of work.
Of all these stories, only ServiCom's closure can realistically be called bad news. While Rockford government and economic development leaders may not think so, Seal-Rite's relocation to Beloit, Wisconsin, is good news for the economic region, which includes Rockford, Beloit, Freeport, Belvidere and Rochelle. It's reasonable to think that many or most Seal-Rite employees will be able to continue working at the firm without moving to Wisconsin, unless, of course, they want to do that.
Costco has also decided the stateline is a great place to invest. The retailer is building a new store in Loves Park, across from the new hospital.
Future growth in the Beloit Stateline Industrial Park and at Chicago Rockford International Airport will strengthen our local economy by creating jobs on both sides of the Cheddar Curtain.
At the same time, Wisconsin economic development leaders shouldn't regard the decision of Mercyhealth several years ago to build its flagship hospital in Rockford and move its headquarters from Janesville as a loss. The new hospital will help cement the stateline as a regional medical destination.
I know I've said this before, but here it is again: People think regionally based on their mobile, 21st-century lifestyles, but politicians govern in the 19th century, in the horse-and-buggy era when the taxing jurisdictions that hem them in were created.
So, local politicians remain hyper-competitive, each trying to grab companies to add to their tax rolls. It's a perverse way to do economic development, but it will not change unless states create regional taxing authorities to replace local taxing districts, of which Illinois has nearly 7,000, nearly twice as many as any other state.
Meanwhile, modern life goes on. In the real world, we live in one place, work in another, shop in a third, and rarely if ever think, "Oh, I've just crossed over into Roscoe. What now?"
We live in a region defined as where we can drive in less than an hour. State legislators should change tax laws to reflect life as it is lived today, not as it was lived before Edison invented the light bulb.
Chuck Sweeny: firstname.lastname@example.org; @chucksweeny