“Just outside Chicago, there’s a place called Illinois.”

“Just outside Chicago, there’s a place called Illinois.”

Move your business and home to downstate

Chris Setti and Craig Hullinger AICP

“Just outside Chicago, there’s a place called Illinois.” The State of Illinois developed this catchy slogan for it’s tourism marketing program to encourage Chicago-area residents to visit the Illinois south and west of Chicago, instead of visiting Wisconsin and Michigan. The strategy aimed to keep tourism and the dollars it generates in Illinois.

The strategy need not stop at tourism, though. Communities in downstate Illinois should employ a similar strategy when attracting businesses and economic development. Outside of the Chicago metropolitan area, the cost of home ownership and renting is tremendously cheaper. The cost of doing business is also much less. Congestion, often cited as a quality-of-life issue, is virtually non-existent: “rush hour” in smaller communities is often the “rush minute”.

Demographic trends indicate that the problem is only going to get worse in Northeast Illinois. Of Illinois’ population of 12 million people, 8 million citizens live in or around Chicago. By 2030, Illinois is projected to grow over 15%, but of the 2 million more people living here, most will be living in or near metro Chicago.

While growth is encouraging, it also comes with associated costs. Both Chicago and Illinois would be better off if some of the projected growth occurred in other Illinois communities. The addition of two million more people to the Chicago area will create more traffic congestion and air pollution. This will require increased capital expenditure at the federal, state and local levels as the transportation, protective and educational infrastructures swell to accommodate this growth. The increase in taxes need to manage this growth is rarely appreciated by citizens.

Illinois communities outside of Chicagoland could accommodate and welcome this growth. Many communities are at best experiencing moderate growth, while many more are losing population. These smaller communities often have housing stock, roads, schools, and other infrastructure that have capacity sufficient to the task.

This potential is illustrated by comparing two large metropolitan areas in Illinois. The moderately-growing Peoria metropolitan area is the second largest metro area in Illinois. However, as the following table demonstrates, there are significant advantages to locating or relocating “downstate”:

Chicago / Peoria

Median Home Price
$ 274,700 / $ 114,900

Average Commute Time (2000)
35 minutes / 20 minutes

“Cost of Doing Business” Rank
90th / 47th

Cost of Living Index Composite
103.9 / 96.9

Student-Teacher Ratio
16.40 / 14.40
Relocating Businesses and Employees Downstate

More and more people are controlling their own job location. The Internet permits more people to work remotely. Telecommuting allows mobile professionals to flee large, congested metro areas and work and live in a pleasant environment. Free lance writers, advertising executives, entrepreneurs, artists, computer experts and even salespeople are typical of employees who often have control of their work location. Jack Manahan is a perfect example. Manahan left the Chicago suburbs for Peoria. As a home-based computer consultant to government, he simply drives 10 minutes to the airport when he needs to visit a client. "I saved half the cost of my auto insurance and got a much nicer home in Peoria when I left Chicago. And the rush hour is much less than in Chicago. Peoria is a pleasant place to live and work, without the hassle of a really big city. "

Long gone is the requirement for manufacturers, agencies, sales forces and consulting companies to be located in a large metropolitan area. In fact, the cost of doing so might well outweigh the benefits. The same connectivity that permits telecommuting allows business leaders the flexibility to move their entire company to smaller, more attractive communities where both the quality of life and the cost of doing business are better. The marketplace is no longer local – it is global and requires little more than a strong technology and transportation infrastructure. This trend is accelerating and will likely continue to be popular, especially as congestion increases.

Attracting a Retiree Migration South

Moving to a downstate community can also be an excellent retirement strategy. Retirees can achieve substantial savings from the sale of their homes. With Chicago’s real estate market rocketing skyward, retirees can often turn the sale of one home into the purchase of two: A home in a moderately-sized downstate community that offers proximity to family and friends and offers all the amenities of city life, and possibly a second home for the winter months in the Sun Belt. This move is especially appealing to those individuals who grew up downstate but moved to larger metropolitan areas for work reasons.

One budding strategy in attracting retirees is to build housing communities in conjunction with universities and colleges. The housing can be privately developed, with alumni and faculty targeted as purchasers. The partnership is a win-win situation: Alumni bring a love of the institution and serve as natural source of volunteers, donors, event boosters and even students in continuing education. The city gets more homeowners and consumers in the local economy, but does not need to concern itself with these new citizens taking high-paying jobs or additionally taxing the local public school system.

Craig Harlan Hullinger AICP is  Partner in the consulting firm Ruyle Hullinger and Associates. He was formerly the Economic Develpoment Director for the City of Peoria. Craig has a BA Degree in Public Administration, a Master s Degree in Environmental Planning. Contact him at (309) 634-5557 or 

Christopher Setti is an Economic Development Specialist with the Economic Development Department of the City of Peoria. Chris has a BA in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. Contact him at (309) 494-8618 or 
[1] National Association of Realtors: http://money.cnn.com/pf/features/lists/nar_3q05/price.html#table[2] Arbitron “Average Travel Time to Work Comparison.” www.arbitron.com/outdoor_companies/travel_result.asp[3] Forbes Magazine, “Best Places for Business and Careers.” May 5, 2005.[4] ACCRA Cost of Living Index, 2nd Quarter 2005[5] www.money.cnn.com. “Best Places to Live 2005.”

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