New investment and innovation driving the Quad Cities regional economy

Over $2.8 billion in public and private sector investment is happening right now in the Quad Cities, a six-county region straddling the Iowa and Illinois state lines and connected by the two banks of the Mississippi River.

Construction is underway on the new $1.4 billion signature I-74 bridge, where tens of thousands of people will travel back and forth between the states every day. That’s because in this bi-state region that offers a laborshed of 588,000 people, it’s common that businesses will draw employees, clients and suppliers from throughout western Illinois and eastern Iowa.

That ability to draw from the larger region, coupled with certified, shovel-ready sites was what helped attract the new $203 million Kraft Heinz state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, as well as the $160 million, 2.5 million square foot Sterilite manufacturing facility to the region.

“In the past three years our region has been able to attract two very significant business attraction deals as a result of our strong public-private sector relationships, available workforce and strategic inventory development that has made the Quad Cities a competitive business location,” says Liz Murray Tallman, Chief Economic Development Officer, Quad Cities Chamber. “At the same time, our existing local businesses have also continued to expand.”

While the addition of new primary job investment has spurred growth in the area economy, the Quad Cities region is also experiencing a renaissance in its urban cores. There is over $600 million in downtown reinvestment that is recently completed or underway, including the development of a new urban community college campus that will energize the urban core and meet the rising demand for post-secondary attainment, an Amtrak station with direct passenger rail line to Chicago, IL, and a surge of new retail and restaurant amenities.

“As workforce continues to be a top priority in business development and site location decisions, the resurgence of our downtowns is key in attracting and retaining the young talent that communities across the country are competing for,” says Tallman. “Our downtown development initiatives help support the workforce recruitment and retention goals of area businesses.”

Manufacturing for the Future

Home to companies such as Deere & Company, Arconic, Cobham, HON and the Rock Island Arsenal, the Quad Cities region has a legacy in manufacturing. Regional manufacturers, along with the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, are now working together to embrace Industry 4.0 and the tsunami of new technologies that are vastly changing the industry.

The regional initiative, the Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub (the Hub), was chosen by the Department of Defense Defense Industry Adjustment program to create a model in the Quad Cities that will be replicated throughout other parts of the nation. The Hub is a network of resources that helps companies, especially small and medium-sized manufacturers better understand and adopt new technologies. In addition, it is also focused on helping companies that conduct business with the department of defense diversify their business.

“The innovation happening at companies in the Quad Cities is astounding,” says Tallman. “Companies like Arconic with specialized aluminum to serve the automotive and aerospace industries and Deere & Company that was a forerunner in autonomous vehicles. The Hub is building on this culture of innovation as companies fully embrace quickly-changing technologies.”

Area businesses are top priority

Once a company makes the decision to locate in the Quad Cities, there are a myriad of resources available to support their continued growth. The Quad Cities Chamber is a regional chamber of commerce that leads a cohesive bi-state advocacy platform, provides technical assistance through a service called the Critical Talent Network, and conducts a formal outreach program called Business Connections through which they connect area businesses with resources to overcome obstacles. The results of some of these programs speak volumes to the dedication that the business community and public sector have to helping companies in the Quad Cities grow.

For example, the Chamber led the charge in 2016 to change legislation that has since enabled Exelon Quad Cities Generating Station to retain its location situated on 765 acres in the Quad Cities. Exelon is since in the midst of a $20 million expansion.

Through the Business Connection program, the Chamber interviewed 116 local businesses, and as a result helped with 179 unique assistance referrals, many of which were in the areas of workforce training, business development services and assistance with business expansion.

The Chamber also offers a unique program called the Critical Talent Network. This network is comprised of approximately 150 late-stage career, subject matter experts that are ready to help businesses in areas such as strategic planning, project management, supply management, lean manufacturing and the like.

When a business locates to the Quad Cities, they have these resources and more available to support their continued growth.

Ready for business

Crisscrossed by four interstates and over a dozen state and federal highways, the Quad Cities region is located 2 ½ hours away from Chicago, and within a five-hour truck drive of Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, Des Moines, Indianapolis and Omaha. Thirty-seven million people live within a 300 mile radius of the Quad Cities, putting businesses within ready access to customers and suppliers.

When it comes to workforce, companies in the Quad Cities can draw from the 40 colleges and universities located within a 90 mile radius. The institutions graduate 41,000 students annually. Additionally, many of the regional colleges offer robust and customizable workforce training programs.

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