April 18, 2021

Despite challenges, Will County's economy remains strong, CED reports

After dramatic shifts due to pandemic, unemployment stands at 6.6%

The Will County Center for Economic Development delivered its annual report to investors virtually on Friday to discuss the state of the economy and development during a year impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the burden of economic restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, Will County has seen millions of dollars in new investment and positive job growth over the last year, according to the CED.

Doug Pryor, the CED's vice president for economic development, detailed several major construction and development projects in the county over the past year.

So far in 2020, the CED said the county has had more than $1.2 billion in new investment and more than 1600 new jobs. Pryor said the job growth total was lower than it's been in past years, but considering the pandemic, he called the number "extraordinary."

In terms of new development, there's been over 10 million square feet of newly leased space in Will County so far in 2020, with about 7 million square feet under construction. Pryor stressed that while each year has seen continued economic development in the industrial and logistics sectors, Will County's success in being a "magnet" for these sorts of projects is unique.

"These things are just not happening anywhere else," he said.

Amazon has also continued to grow its presence in Will County with the opening of its Channahon facility which brought over 1,000 new jobs. The logistics giant will also open a facility in University Park with more than 800 new jobs next summer.

Even before this year, Amazon was already the largest employer in Will County.

Pryor also touted Silver Cross Hospital opening its new urgent care facility and major expansions this year.

The county is also just beginning to see the benefits of massive public infrastructure investments like the $1 billion in improvements along a key section of Interstate 80 from last year's state capital bill. Improvements at major interchanges along I-80 in New Lenox and I-55 in Romeoville are also underway this year.

In total, Pryor said the state will spend about $2.1 billion in transportation improvements in Will County over the next five years. He called Will County a "focal point" for investment in the state.

Will County also continues to be a leader in real estate growth in the region. While the county represents only 17% of the northeastern Illinois industrial market, its share of market demand this year was at 54%.

A very different recession

Pryor also delved into how dramatic of an effect this pandemic recession had on the economy, and how different it was compared to that seen after the 2008 financial crisis.

The county and state saw a much more rapid recovery compared to the last crisis after record-shattering job losses in the second quarter of this year, though that recovery is moderating. Pryor said that sort of dynamic economic change within a short period of time was unusual.

"We're dealing with a very different phenomenon," he said.

Still, Will County's unemployment rate stood at about 6.6% in October. While the mark is much better than when it was 17.4% in April, it's still higher than the county's all time low rate of 3% a year ago.

Despite the challenges of this year, Will County has continued to see positive job growth, especially over the last decade. Since 2010, the county has added more than 57,000 jobs, a 29% growth rate.

"Even if the state has lagged, even if the nation has lagged, Will County remains a job center," Pryor said.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.