Known as the “crossroads of opportunity” for its impressive transportation routes, Effingham has cultivated growth at the junction of business and community. This micropolitan has made a splash by building a progressive, pro-business infrastructure and improving residents’ quality of life – both inside and outside the office.
According to Todd Hull, the economic development director at the Effingham Department of Economic Development, the area’s successful growth is just the beginning of what the city has in store.
Located smack in the middle of central Illinois, at the cross-section of several major transportation routes, Effingham is described by Mr. Hull as the “hub of a wagon wheel”, referring to the overlapping and critical trade paths that meet in the city.
Interstates 57 and 70, as well as state routes 45, 40, 32 and 33, overlap in Effingham. These roadways form a belt that surrounds the city, carrying an average of 37,000 vehicles per day. In addition to road transport, the Canadian National and CSX railroads also intersect the city, presenting yet another opportunity for freight and cargo businesses. Effingham serves as an important meeting point for the region as a whole, with residents coming from the surrounding areas to visit the city for shopping, healthcare and recreation.
The city attracts labor from an eight-county radius, placing its working population at 175,000. The area’s businesses have grown so much in recent years, as a result of this business development and interstate traffic, that now the daytime population doubles as commuters from across the region head to work.
It is no surprise that the area’s prime location and robust transportation infrastructure has brought in commercial development, but its industrial portfolio has also expanded massively. The area has a long history in printing that survives to this day, but more recently manufacturing, wood products, food processing, automotive, warehousing, distribution and metal fabrication have become vital industries in Effingham.
Working in tandem, the private and public sectors have constructed sustainable economic diversity in Effingham. This diversity has supported local businesses, and more importantly, local jobs throughout turbulent financial times. Even in 2008, one of the toughest economic periods in US history, Effingham was able to retain business through its aggressive business-centered programs. According to Hull, that commitment is ultimately what separates Effingham from other similar locations.
The city’s industrial development in recent years has garnered new business from across the country and is home to the likes of Sherwin Williams, Pinnacle Foods, Continental Mills, Hitachi, and, one of its newest additions, Beck’s Hybrids. Although location has been a critical piece of this growth, advantageous state and local incentives and a large, work-ready labor force have been equally influential. “We are a progressive, pro-business community.”
Offering capital support for growing businesses is critical to long-term economic viability. At a time when many areas were pulling back from public investment, Effingham pushed harder. The city has a tradition of investing heavily in local infrastructure and, as such, it has not only the tools, but the sites ready for business.
“We maintain our infrastructure here and are committed to expanding it. We have programs in place to ensure we are constantly updating our infrastructure and staying relevant. That really sets us apart from other areas,” said Hull
Effingham has taken a proactive role in providing growth incentives through public support. The city has various subsidies and business-enticement programs in place including four TIF (Tax Increment Financing) districts, an Enterprise Zone, two business districts and multiple loan programs available for local businesses. The high-tech area of the city is right off the interstate and has several areas ready for development. Additionally, several other spaces are open in the Effingham Business Park on the other side of the city.
“When people come here they are surprised that we have so much to offer. We have the attributes of a larger community, but we still have a small-town feel. This is a safe place to live and a great place to live; people really like that about Effingham.”
Business is booming in Effingham, but the area is not all work and no play. As many companies and workers have sought out the area for its professional opportunities, more have stayed for its high quality of life.
With state-of-the-art healthcare facilities, a great school district, numerous recreation opportunities and an affordable cost of living, Effingham gives residents a platform on which to build their careers and community.
The city has a quickly expanding selection of healthcare facilities, led by a major hospital complex and supplemented by several clinics, a medical park and more. St. Anthony’s Hospital, located in Effingham, is arguably one of the best health care complexes in the region. The healthcare facility has undergone near-constant expansion since its opening, and the complex is now home to 140 beds and served by over 700 employees. Currently, St. Anthony’s is in the process of a $10 million expansion of the ambulatory center, to complement its new outpatient center that was completed last year.
In building for a business-friendly future, Effingham has paid careful attention to education and workforce training. There are several exceptional public school districts in the area and dozens of opportunities for post-secondary education and skills training. The unique part about education in Effingham is the relationships between students and industry. The local high schools, together with Lake Land College and area businesses, work closely to identify opportunities for skills development, which has led to a highly-skilled labor force.
“There is a coordinated effort going on right now to put the programs in place to meet the skills that are needed for the workforce,” said Mr. Hull.
An example of this is the recent development of a manufacturing skills lab that was created in a high school to support a rapid upswing in advanced manufacturing. Similar skill-specific programs – including a construction and trades program and a ‘CEO’ class geared toward business-minded students – have been introduced into high schools. The Kluthe Center, a satellite location of Lake Land College, is also in the process of developing a secondary facility dedicated specifically to workforce training.
In addition to life and business in Effingham, there are an increasing number of tourists visiting the city for everything from shopping and eating to corporate events. While business tourists represent a significant population of the area’s visitors, its natural beauty and other attractions are also an important draw. The city boasts a large performance theater, three golf courses, a sizable convention center and over seventy restaurants. For those seeking an escape from urban bustle or a weekend in the outdoors, nearby Lake Sara has twenty-seven miles of unspoiled shoreline.
Effingham has all the trimmings of business success and, according to Mr. Hull, further development is in the pipeline. Building on its trained workforce, infrastructure and instrumental location, the city anticipates considerable growth in the distribution, food processing and automotive sectors.
“I am proud of how Effingham continues to grow. We are a proud and progressive area.”