GODFREY – Speaking before a crowd of business, labor and civic leaders, local legislators and students at Lewis and Clark Community College, Governor Rod Blagojevich unveiled his fifth of ten new major economic plans to spur growth in the region and across the state. The Governor’s initiative, Opportunity Returns, is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history. This grassroots plan is a product of significant outreach over the past several months throughout the region, with business, civic and labor leaders, and government officials.
“If there’s any single way that we can make people’s lives better, it’s by creating opportunity so people can work. Economics isn’t just about efficiencies and expanding markets and free trade. It’s not just about charts and graphs, theories and statistics,” Governor Blagojevich said. "What it’s really about, at its most basic level, is opportunity. Opportunity to work, to earn a living, to support a family. Our plan is neither a big government promise to fix everything - nor is it a tiny band-aid for a seriously wounded economy. Instead, these initiatives are targeted investments - to connect entrepreneurs with investors, to connect ideas with skilled workers, and to connect our supply of economic assets with demand around the world.”
The Governor’s Opportunity Returns plan for Southwestern Illinois consists of five primary goals to address the economic and workforce development needs of the region: supporting and modernizing local businesses, expanding regional infrastructure, investing in education, job training and technology, increasing the use of coal and renewable energy, and promoting tourism and heritage.
The Southwestern Illinois region includes Bond, Calhoun, Clinton, Jersey, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington counties.
The Governor announced more than 50 major initiatives and grants to counter job loss and spur economic development in the Southwestern region, including:
· Keeping Scott Air Force Base Open. Governor Blagojevich’s top priority is to continue working with local leaders and the Illinois congressional delegation to retain Scott Air Force Base, which employs more than 13,000 people and pumps more than a $1 billion into the regional economy. Additionally, the state will hire a top specialist in military affairs to represent the Southwest region’s interests on Capitol Hill and fight to keep Scott Air Force Base open and operational.
· Expanding Roadway Transportation. The almost 20 new projects include $23 million in new funding to begin building the Jerseyville Bypass for US 67. This 6.1-mile segment will help establish a continuous expressway from I-270 to Jerseyville. $22.5 million to make improvements to the I-55/ I-70 interchange at IL Route 162 in Troy. $13.5 million to expand Governor’s Parkway from two to five lanes between Interstate 55 and IL Route 157 in Edwardsville. $5.1 million to make roadway and bridge improvements to provide better access to the Howard M. Wolf Industrial Park, located in Greenville. $5 million for the engineering study to build the Gateway Connector, a 37-mile corridor from Troy to Columbia. $500,000 to build a left turn lane on IL Route 4 at County Highway 18 to accommodate the new World Shooting Complex being built in Sparta.
· Supporting the Illinois Port District Revolving Loan Fund. For more than four years, the Illinois Port District Revolving Loan Fund has sat empty, but now the Governor is providing much needed assistance to the Tri-City Port, Kaskaskia Port and other ports throughout Illinois by investing $4 million in the fund.
· Providing $3.9 million in Critical Hospital Payment Assistance funds to help Touchette Hospital in Centreville purchase St. Mary’s Hospital in East St. Louis saving 360 jobs.
· Strengthening Regional Airports. Governor Blagojevich is helping MidAmerica St. Louis Airport market airport services to new customers and to plan future use. The state is also providing funding for needed infrastructure improvements at the airport.
· Upgrading local colleges and universities. Almost $7.7 million for a 40,000 square foot classroom addition to Southwestern Illinois College’s main Belleville campus. $6 million to complete the final phases of the N.O. Nelson Complex, which is part of the Lewis and Clark Community College’s Edwardsville Campus. $2.8 million to begin the renovation and expansion of the SIU Edwardsville Science Laboratory Building and help build its Advanced Technical Worker Training Center and the Biotech and Commercial Research Incubator.
· Nearly $12 million in grants available directly to businesses to help train and retrain their workforce.
· A $2 million, four year commitment to the National Corn to Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) at SIU Edwardsville, if the U.S. Department of Agriculture matches this grant. Also, $350,000 to NCERC to develop technologies that will help smaller ethanol plants recover corn oil as a co-product.
· Nearly $300,000 to help market, advertise, and promote the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Festival in Hartford. Also, $280,000 to help construct the Lewis & Clark Memorial Tower at Camp River DuBois, near Hartford.
“It will not be easy or simple. It will be hard. There will be successes and there will be setbacks. But our resolve will never lessen, and, most importantly, our commitment to the good, honest, hard working families throughout our state will never fade. Failure is not an option. And with each success, with each hard earned success, we will move forward. One job at a time. One company at a time. One family at a time,” Governor Blagojevich concluded.”