By DYLAN MASSEY
For Rantoul Press
I find it interesting (and a bit amusing) how one of Rantoul’s economic directors touts the Retail Coach as being "too good" at their job, and thus the village is choosing to "opt out" of the third year of the contract.
How one rectifies this logic, while nothing much in the way of "economic development" has been achieved in Rantoul for quite some time is beyond me. Of course I understand that these kinds of things take time — sure — but how much time?
I’ve read quite a bit about the efforts of Rantoul’s co-economic directors who, after going to trade shows and making contacts have nothing concrete to show for their exertions. However, anyone that has driven in Champaign (down University Avenue, for example) can see firsthand how quickly development can happen. The Holiday Inn Express was supposed to "break ground" some time ago, and that project is just now getting started.
Telling people there’s a line of retailers that need leases sounds great, but where are they? And why would a Holiday Inn Express lead to more retail business? Do prospective retailers really see a new Holiday Inn Express being built as a sign of economic vibrancy in the village?
Then we come to the idea of economic development itself and how it is properly defined and applied, and by what metric it should be measured. Rantoul as a whole, meaning both its citizens and its government, needs to decide what economic development means to Rantoul. Is simply bringing in a hotel, more fast food joints, maybe a restaurant and some other retailers really what the village has in mind as economic development?
"They bring in jobs and taxes," you say? Sure, they bring in entry-level jobs with typically considerable turnover rates, but yes, Rantoul will see some extra tax dollars.
It should be noted that none of the above jobs is going to readily change the socio-economic demographic of Rantoul; people working at the Holiday Inn Express for $8.25 per hour or even $12.00 per hour won’t be buying houses in Rantoul.
Retail jobs will not raise the overall median salary of the average citizen in the village, and that should be the ultimate goal; bringing in businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups that are new and emerging and have the potential to truly affect Rantoul’s economic development efforts.
We have one of the top universities around for STEM degrees and graduates; there is no reason Rantoul shouldn’t be courting these 20- and 30-somethings.
Yes, nearly everyone in Rantoul would love more restaurants and stores to shop in, but making this the sole focus of economic development is short-sighted. For Rantoul to truly become a 21st-century village and live up to its potential, we need to pursue STEM industries and businesses.
We need to attract educated individuals and groups, and when retailers see the average income of those living in Rantoul rise, they will be more willing to locate and expand their businesses here.
This is not to take away from the efforts of Mike Royse and Rebecca Motley. I applaud their efforts. Perhaps I am alone in this, but the perception from the stories in the Rantoul Press about Rantoul’s economic development amount to mere back-patting for seemingly not a lot of return.
We’ve gone from "things happening so slowly, they do not happen at all," to "Retail Coach is so good, things can’t happen at all."
Maybe the village should think about reevaluating its economic development strategy before renewing any future contracts.
While retail business is important, any reevaluation should seriously consider what type of industry would lead to increased salaries and increased home ownership in the village of Rantoul.
Dylan Massey, a resident of Rantoul, has a master’s degree in public policy and public administration from Eastern Illinois University and is employed by the city of Champaign Township.