Logistics Park Galesburg: The infomercial

 

By Mike Kroll

The Zephyr, Galesburg

 

The Sanderson Room of the Galesburg Public Library was surprisingly packed as representatives of the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association joined by Jim Ford of developer CenterPoint Properties gave a public presentation on the status of the Galesburg Logistics Park and area economic development efforts in general. Holding the meeting at 9am on a Wednesday seemed like a curious time if GREDA was really looking for public interaction but a wide cross-spectrum of people did turn out and stayed for the two-hour meeting. While no one thought to bring pom-poms the meeting was designed to put GREDAs best foot forward in a community where many have seen little tangible results for a sizable investment of scarce local resources.

Former GREDA chairman Jon Polillo perhaps best summed up the meeting when he said toward the end, “We've been wrong for years in not reporting more to the public about our various activities and our vision as we have today.” This comment was made shortly after two members of the audience, including newly elected Galesburg Alderman Ken Goad made statements welcoming the new-found openness to discuss economic development efforts within a public forum.

The meeting was to be a combination of presentations from GREDA and Mr. Ford about the development of the logistics park and the track record of CenterPoint in Illinois economic development projects followed by a brief panel discussion and audience questions. The presentations, particularly in regard to GREDA's history, ended up going much longer than necessary but the star was clearly Ford. A business development manager for CenterPoint, Ford is responsible for that firms marketing and development of the logistics park. His contribution was significant not only because he was an outsider ratifying the direction chosen by the local group but because his firm is reportedly making a huge financial commitment to the success of the project.

Asked about just what the best-case scenario would be for the logistics park Ford emphasized the railroad potential of Galesburg and the creation of a boutique intermodal facility joined by four to five million square feet of distribution warehouse buildings and the potential to create upwards of 1,300 jobs locally. This would not include the truckers who would carry cargo away from these warehouses. All-in-all Ford said he sees this as a $200 million-plus investment by CenterPoint into the Galesburg area.

Polillo, who himself manages the local Dick Blick distribution center, lamented the decline in American manufacturing jobs but hailed logistics and distribution as the next biggest opportunities for communities like Galesburg to rebuild their economy. GREDA president Greg Mangieri pointed out the geographically ideal location of Galesburg from the perspective of rail-based distribution. “Galesburg literally sits astride the intersection of nearly every major railroad in the United States as they approach Chicago. We can position ourselves as a lower cost and less congested secondary alternative to the metropolitan Chicago area for intermodal shippers.”

Mayor Gary Smith emphasized the importance of China as a source of low-cost manufactured goods and how Galesburg is building relationships there that may eventually lead to Chinese investment here or relationships with local businesses who import Chinese goods to be packaged and shipped across the U.S.  “The Chinese government is committed to following the Japanese model of international economic development. First you market your cheaper goods overseas, then you put into place a distribution network and finally you ship components and sub-assemblies for final assembly in U.S. plants.” Smith sees Galesburg at the point of affording Chinese investors a convenient place to build a distribution network, particularly once a foreign free-trade zone is established at the logistics park.

The audience sat quietly and politely throughout the presentations and asked friendly and respectful questions. GREDA officials really couldn't have asked for a better community reaction. One question asked toward the end of the session by Bob Seibert concerned what other economic development directions GREDA was pursuing beside the logistics park and intermodal railroad facility. Mangieri responded that because Galesburg sits in the middle of America's prime farmland he sees alternative energy projects like ethanol and biodiesel as potential opportunities for Galesburg. Pollilo added that GREDA continues to welcome inquiries regarding manufacturing opportunities.

What was notably missing was any commitment of resources toward non-blue collar jobs or the serious nurturing of local entrepreneurs. It is clear that the GREDA strategy remains focused on outsiders being enticed to come to Galesburg's economic development rescue. The problem is this ignores the three decades of non-success as the result of following this exact strategy. Somehow a method must be found that yields greater results from our investment in economic development

If America manufacturing is indeed dead our country is facing real problems in the not too distant future but the GREDA leaders are clearly correct when they note that manufacturers on the move are leaving the U.S. The future of this region seems to rest upon the creation of a more diverse economic base that includes plenty of white-collar as well as blue-collar jobs that are somehow geographically tied to this area and therefore less likely to be seduced away. The logistics park may well be one component in the rebuilding of the area economy and perhaps a necessary component but it clearly isn't sufficient in and of itself to assure success. The vision of our economic development leaders remains too narrowly focused.

 

7/19/07