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Greuling looks back on 20 years of economic growth in Will County

Retired head of Center for Economic Development look back on two decades on the job

Former President and CEO of the Will county Center of Economic Development John Greuling reflects on the decades he spent as the President and CEO. Tuesday, Mar. 8, 2022, in Joliet.

John Greuling said he’d been asked why he stayed 20 years as chief executive for the Will County Center for Economic Development.

“I would say, ‘If you’re in the economic development business, why wouldn’t you stay here?,’” Greuling said, pointing to the amount of activity as Will County established itself over the past two decades as a state leader in commercial and industrial development and job growth.

President and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development John Greuling introduces Gov. Bruce Rauner at the University of St. Francis's Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center on Friday, March 27 in Joliet.

There are certain projects that come along in the profession of economic development that are considered “career deals,” he said.

“I used to joke that one of the neat things about working in Will County was we were doing careerlike projects every six months,” Greuling said.

Greuling retired March 6 as president and chief executive officer for the CED.

Acknowledging the CED is not the reason for Will County’s economic growth, Greuling said. The agency is “a catalyst” that helps make it happen.

John Greuling talks about his time as President and CEO of the Will county Center of Economic Development. Tuesday, Mar. 8, 2022, in Joliet.

“I feel confident that the rhythm the CED has established on growth and development is going to remain strong,” he said. “The pipeline of coming projects is as big as we’ve seen in 10 years.”

Looking back at benchmark accomplishments, Greuling focused on the CED’s role in advocating for infrastructure improvements as the county grew, starting with its leadership in pushing for the Interstate-355 Tollway that was seen as a way to connect Will County with the west and northwest suburbs.

“It was identified as one of the most challenging problems the county had: north-south,” he said. “Now it’s being replicated with east-west.”

The CED developed an advocacy group for Interstate 80 improvements now underway, although Greuling said they are overdue.

John Greuling (right), president and CEO of Will County Center for Economic Development, speaks Friday about an interest of adding train lines to the Heritage Corridor during the start of a Metra board meeting in Joliet.

He pointed to the 2017 Will County Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan, developed jointly by the CED and Will County, as documenting how big a part the county transportation business has not only in the state’s economy but the nation’s economy.

The report will continue to serve as a resource in making a case for spending federal infrastructure dollars, he said.

Greuling took the job in 2001 and wasn’t expecting to stay as long as he did.

“By the time I got to this job, I had changed jobs five or six times, and staying in the same place for 20 years was not in the cards I was holding,” Greuling said.

The interview process included a drive with the late Bob Rogina, a key figure in the CED, to what had been the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant in Elwood. Excavation had just begun for the first of two intermodal yards that were to create what Greuling would in the future be able call the largest inland port in North America.

“There was earthmoving equipment out there,” Greuling said of the drive with Rogina. “But I remember seeing these ponds of green scum. And, Bob Rogina said, ‘Yeah, that’s the remnants of TNT manufacturing.’ He said, ‘John, if you take this job, you’re going to spend a lot of your time over the next 20 years out here.’ I thought, is he kidding? But that pretty much turned out to be true.”

Greuling’s previous experience on big projects was one of the reasons he was hired.

He had worked in the Colorado governor’s office when Denver International Airport was developed. Previously, he worked for the city of Bloomington, Illinois, when the Diamond-Star Motors plant was built, then for a joint venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi.

Former President and CEO of the Will county Center of Economic Development John Greuling. Tuesday, Mar. 8, 2022, in Joliet.

Greuling got into the economic development profession almost by chance in the late 1970s when it was a new field and he was working as a planner for the city of Edwardsville, Illinois. A new mayor was elected on an agenda advocating business growth. At a staff meeting after the election, Greuling said, the mayor pointed at him and said, “Greuling, you’re a planner. You’re going to be the economic development director.”

He was hooked on the profession after “my first deal” helped bring a Kmart into Edwardsville when Kmart was growing.

“The best part of this job is it’s been a lot of fun,” Greuling said. “How many people get up every day and look forward to going to work? I know that sounds trite, but it’s true.”