Illinois is a remarkable state. From a glittering, world class city and the industrial and economic powerhouse that is the north, through some of the deepest, richest farmland in the world, to the very bottom, where two mighty rivers converge and create a wild, unglaciered landscape completely unlike the rest of the state.
No, we aren’t cutting a commercial for the Illinois Tourism Bureau. We are pointing to the richness of diversity – geographically, economically and politically – captured in one state, all of it contributing to what makes Illinois a fascinating place to live and work. Yes, even for all its problems.
On Aug. 3, Gov. JB Pritzker stopped at the Rend Lake Resort off I-57 near Benton, to announce that $350 million in Rebuild Illinois funds was going to be devoted to projects adjacent to Interstates 24 and 57 in southern Illinois. Of that, $17.5 million would renovate the Rend Lake Resort itself, operated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources at the 3,300-acre Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area, but closed since 2016 because of needed maintenance and mold removal.
The renovations paid for by Rebuild Illinois will enable the resort to reopen – hotel, conference center, pool, tennis courts and more – and once again host conferences, guests and other events.
Capitalizing on tourism, a southern Illinois stock in trade, is smart. But ultimately, the region needs investment to produce the kind of full-time jobs with benefits that are too few and far between here – like the $40 million Rebuild Illinois investment in the Alexander-Cairo Port District project. That seed money is expected to draw an estimated $300 million in private investment to the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, creating hundreds of construction jobs and many more permanent jobs with cargo shipping companies and other supporting industries – all on the Illinois side of both rivers.
Through a lack of engagement that runs both ways, many northerners fail to understand the value of investing in southern Illinois, envisioning a “Hillbilly Elegy”-type backwater where an underperforming economy and lack of education are largely self-inflicted by an electorate that consistently votes for God and guns, frequently against its own economic interests.
To be sure, the southern Illinois opinion of northern Illinois is just as unflattering.
The truth, of course, is a lot more mundane. State legislators in southern Illinois can’t get elected without expressing deeply conservative values, and of course, most appreciate if not share the values that put them in office. But once in Springfield, their main concern is much the same as everyone else’s -- looking for ways to boost the local economy, bringing business, roads and reliable internet and other utilities to an area of the state that in an economic downtown gets hit harder and faster than anywhere else.
Continuing to invest in the southern third of the state is Illinois’ version of the adage about a rising tide lifting all boats. It’s important that as Illinoisans, we recognize that.
The Daily Herald