Madison County, Illinois is rooted in history, having been named in 1812 for James Madison, fourth president of the United States and one of America’s founding fathers.
The area earned a reputation as an industrial region over the years, hosting companies like the National Enameling and Stamping Co., famous for producing long-lasting, affordable pots and pans known as graniteware. Today, it is home to manufacturers including American multinational energy business Phillips 66 and heavy industries such as steel with companies like U.S. Steel and Alton Steel.
“Some of the older traditional manufacturing isn’t necessarily as rampant as it once was, and we’ve gradually turned into a hub for logistics, distribution, and warehousing,” says Madison County Coordinator James Arnold. The county is part of the St. Louis Regional Freightway which describes itself as “an all-purpose authority for freight operations and opportunities within the St. Louis region.”
Madison County and surrounding communities together make a prime area for agriculture and food-related industries such as agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto, headquartered in St. Louis since it was founded by John F. Queeny in 1901. Crops such as corn and soybeans are moved by rail and river, as the area has arrangements with ports along the Mississippi. Products can be conveniently picked up and placed onto trucks, making it great for business of all types, from logistics and warehousing to manufacturing and advanced manufacturing.
“I think we’re definitely going to expand in those areas where we already have a reputation,” says Planner Sam Borders.
Madison County gets funds from HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. With this money, a plan and several grants are coordinated for the county; in particular, Borders administers the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), a form of HUD-provided federal assistance which provides about $2 billion annually for affordable housing. This money is used for rental development projects, portable housing, and down payment assistance.
The enterprise zone known as Gateway Commerce Center has over 6,500 workers and is poised to grow to over 10,000 as it keeps developing. Gateway’s occupants include about two dozen warehouse distribution logistics centers for well-known entities such as Amazon, Hershey, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Save-A-Lot, and Schneider National.
The 2,300-acre center had been a farm field before an application was submitted for the area to become an enterprise zone to be developed in 1996, with the first building going up three years later.
This world-class distribution hub is strategically situated in the St. Louis metropolitan area where it is within five hundred miles of one-third of the population of the entire U.S. Gateway borders Interstates I-270 and I-255 and is just a fifteen-minute drive to downtown St. Louis, only nineteen miles from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, and near three regional airports.
The center offers easy access to road, water, rail, and air transportation, so regional, super-regional, and national businesses can avail themselves of a skilled and willing workforce as well as some of the lowest shipping costs in America.
“In the St. Louis area, we are in the center of the United States,” says Arnold. “You can get to major cities within four to five hours and locations like Indiana, Kansas City, Memphis, and Nashville. And we also house America’s Central Port, which moves things up and down the Mississippi River.”
Available sites are zoned for industrial use and range from fifty-eight to ninety-one acres, with building sizes up to a massive 1,200,000 square feet. Infrastructure such as water, sewer, natural gas, electric, and telecommunications are already in place giving clients the ability to expand on-site cost-effectively. Gateway presently has 6.14 square miles at capacity and still has plenty of available land for growth.
The center boasts a number of local and state economic advantages to businesses ranging from tax increment financing (TIF) to the area being an enterprise zone and foreign trade zone.
“Gateway has been very good for the community,” explains Arnold, adding that NorthPoint Development just came to town with plans to build in Gateway, resulting in three thousand to four thousand more jobs for the area.
The team of Arnold, Borders, and Administrator Trudy Bodenbach administer all of Madison County’s economic development incentives. The trio focuses on low-interest loan programs for job creation, public infrastructure, and health and safety, along with serving as administrators of the area’s four enterprise zones.
Arnold says eighty-five percent of their effort should be spent on business retention efforts. “We consistently have meetings with different businesses, asking them what their needs are, how we can help them if they have an issue, are looking to expand, or having worker retention problems,” says Arnold. “We look at ways of tying them to our employment and training department, and they can do things like host job fairs and post résumés to create a better worker in Madison County.”
Of course, quality of life plays a strong part in drawing new families, individuals, and businesses to the area. “Madison County is gifted with many unique features,” says Bodenbach. “We are home to the last lock and dam on the Mississippi, the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower, Cahokia’s Mound national historic site, and the infamous Ketchup Bottle. To the West you have the great city of St. Louis with so many events and attractions just minutes away. We have tons of outdoor opportunities including plenty of hiking, sailing, and kayaking, numerous parks, and miles and miles of bike trails that add to the quality of life that people are searching for when they are choosing a place to live and raise a family. We have an amazing history which includes the underground railroad and a Lincoln-Douglas debate. Plus, we have the advantages of a great education system which includes a state university and two community colleges, and an exceptional healthcare system which includes five locals hospitals and easy access to world-renowned hospitals just minutes away in St. Louis. Madison County really is an amazing place to live, work, play and raise a family. It’s a place where you truly can have it all and love where you live.”
In January, Jay Robert Pritzker became the forty-third governor of Illinois. Governor Pritzker is pro-business, having been a successful private business owner himself, and the state is waiting to see how new legislation for future development unfolds.
Coordinator Arnold is looking forward to the growth of Madison County. “It would be nice to see the state of Illinois go after some of the bigger players financially, to financially incentivize them like some other states can,” he says. “We’re hoping for that but haven’t seen it yet.”
Being a community with educated and available employees and room to expand makes Madison County well-suited for logistics, distribution, warehousing, manufacturing, and many other types of business.
“We’re friendly, we’re cost-effective, we have a great workforce, and we are here to help,” states Arnold. “We love answering questions, and we encourage you to come take a look. We probably have the best transportation set-up – maybe – in the United States. With four interstates running through us, and six Class 1A railroads, we can meet your transportation needs.”