EAST PEORIA — Caterpillar Inc. is the largest employer in East Peoria and the area is fortunate to have the business in central Illinois, said East Peoria Chamber of Commerce director Rick Swan.

Even though there were some layoffs at the large corporation recently, Swan said he thinks the mining industry will rebound.

EAST PEORIA — Caterpillar Inc. is the largest employer in East Peoria and the area is fortunate to have the business in central Illinois, said East Peoria Chamber of Commerce director Rick Swan. 

Even though there were some layoffs at the large corporation recently, Swan said he thinks the mining industry will rebound.

“Once that industry comes back, Caterpillar’s going to be very, very well positioned for growth. As Caterpillar grows, then that means that a lot of the suppliers to Caterpillar, their business increases,” he said.

With the announcement of the Caterpillar’s new world headquarters to be constructed in downtown Peoria, Swan said this will create all types of construction jobs as well.

“I see some great opportunities in the building trades, that sector,” Swan said. “There should be jobs for years to come.

“Once jobs are created in industry, the domino effect is great because there are suppliers that supply those jobs. When people have jobs and money in their pocket, they’re going to go out to eat. They’re going to buy cars, they’re going to buy boats; they’re 

going to buy all types of things.”

In East Peoria, hospitality and retail are a major focus. It was recently announced that a new Holiday Inn Express will be built in East Peoria near Bass Pro Shops. 

In the city’s Levee District, two 9,000-square-foot buildings are currently under construction. Ty Livingston, the city’s planning and zoning director, said in addition to a Chick-fil-A, some of the new businesses that will be locating to the Levee District in the near future are Jason’s Deli, Aspen Dental and Moe’s Southwest Grill. 

The medical industry, with two large hospitals in Peoria, impacts outlying communities with jobs, as well, Swan said.

“Medical’s huge. That’s a huge contributor to the economic engine and education when you start looking at (Illinois Central College) and all the schools, elementary and high schools, Bradley and Midstate,” Swan said.

Livingston said what other communities do have an impact on each other. For example, Peoria is focusing on its Warehouse District, and Livingston said that is good for East Peoria’s businesses.

“Those folks that move to the Warehouse District in Peoria, they’re going to have to shop somewhere. They’re going to have to dine out somewhere. Obviously, they have options over there, but we have what we feel is a nice complement across the river,” Livingston said. “Certainly some of the big box stores you couldn’t place in the Warehouse District we have here.”

To draw people to an area to help keep the economy robust, other factors, such as culture have a role. Livingston referred to the planned sculpture walks in Peoria and East Peoria. 

“That’s good for the area. If we can make a connection between the two of them and have complementary walks where you can come across the bridge and see ours and vice versa, that’s good for everybody,” Livingston said. “It reinforces the area. You’re creating an experience. You no longer just come here to eat and leave or come here to shop and leave.”

Swan said the central Illinois area also offers an affordable cost of living, which can attract people that are looking for jobs.

“For a 24,000 person town, we’re doing pretty well,” he said. “Obviously, our position in the urbanized area and our location here, we take advantage of that and maximize its benefit.” 

In April, the Chamber of Commerce hosts a job fair at East Peoria Community High School with local businesses setting up tables to speak with students. Swan said with the baby boomer generation retiring, there will be more job opportunities for the younger generation.

“I think you’re going to see probably over the next five years, at least under 10 years, the baby boomer generation is going to be retiring, so somebody’s got to fill in the gaps,” he said.

A shift between jobs and generations is not the only change taking place over the years. East Peoria has witnessed a transformation in the job market. What was once almost an entirely blue collar town now offers a mix of both blue and white collar occupations.

“East Peoria has shifted more toward white collar slash service/hospitality related, but that’s taking Caterpillar out of the mix. But when you look at (Caterpillar building) AD down here, that’s white collar for the most part. That’s IT, that’s engineering and dealer-based things,” he said.

“The percentage of that workforce that was blue collar is less than it was 25 years ago,” Livingston said. 

Another shift in the job market deals with technology. Swan said due to the computerization of many things, fewer workers are needed.

“For example, when I started at Keystone, we had over 2,000 employees. When I retired six or seven years ago, we were down to about 1,000 making more steel, more product than ever in history with half of the people. … I think the skill set has to be a little better for jobs like that,” Swan said.

One of the biggest factors impacting the attraction of larger corporations to the area, Swan said, is the image of the state of Illinois.

“Until Illinois is perceived as a place to work, and a place to bring business, then I think we’re all going to end up wondering what’s going to happen,” he said.

Livingston said Illinois makes the list on site searches for job location in a five-state area, but ultimately does not make the short list.

Swan said even though East Peoria and Peoria have a great transportation system, he feels the state is missing the boat on attracting high-tech businesses.

“You’re not going to get a Boeing corporate to move here or some of the bigger operations. We’re so fortunate to have Caterpillar here,” Swan said. “I think with them announcing what they intend to do that can bring in future businesses. I think with the hospitals being as good as they are, that will bring in things. But when you’ve got other states making offerings and we’re so tied up in debt. We’ve got issues with workman’s comp, if you’re a corporate business, you kind of look at that. I think the way the state of Illinois is perceived right now is somewhat of a hindrance.”

Overall, Swan said he views the job outlook for 2015 as positive, but not robust. 

“I think it’s going to be steady with growth to come,” he said.