Motivation to move

Jacksonville offers $5K to qualified workers willing to relocate to the community

Some people will soon be paid $5,000 to move to Jacksonville, Illinois.

The Jacksonville Regional Economic Development Corporation is offering the bounty as part of its ongoing effort to lure professionals to the community of 17,600 and surrounding Morgan and Scott counties.

According to the U.S. Census, during the second decade of this century Jacksonville lost 9.2% of its population. Since then, it has faced other economic setbacks, such as the closure of 174-year-old MacMurray College.

Kristin Jamison, executive director of the JREDC, said businesses in the community are struggling to recruit qualified candidates.

"The two sectors that we're really honing in on are manufacturing and health care. We have (open) professional positions in both of those areas from engineers to drafters to technologists to robotic welders – some really interesting positions that people might not know about," she said.

Trevor Huffman, CEO of Jacksonville Memorial Hospital, said his organization also struggles to fill positions. In addition to dealing with the nationwide nursing shortage, he said his hospital also finds itself bereft of qualified applicants for other openings.

"Technologist positions – like X-ray techs – are really hard for us (to fill.) Medical lab technologists have been difficult for us as well. And then there's always a need in physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy," Huffman said.

The JREDC, which is funded with both local tax dollars and contributions from area employers, is advertising positions extensively online, Jamison said.

But it is also launching a pilot program this year in which three people, who now live at least 70 miles from Jacksonville, will be cut checks to move to the community. JREDC is working with Make My Move, an Indianapolis-based company that offers an online directory to help connect people willing to relocate with municipalities offering incentives.

"I'm really pleased that JREDC is willing to offer $5,000 cash incentives to three individuals who decide to move to Jacksonville," Jamison said. "It's exciting because we have great jobs here. But we just may need a little bit of help in making sure that people know about them and know about our area."

While only three people will receive the cash bounties, the JREDC anticipates that the program will actually result in more people moving to the Jacksonville area, she said.

Jamison said she believes many people will apply online for the cash incentives. When they do this, they will fill out an application that lists their qualifications for various jobs. Those applications will become part of a database of people willing to move to the Jacksonville area and it will be shared with various employers.

Huffman said nothing would preclude area employers from offering incentives on their own to hire applicants off the list.

"The more data you have, the more options that you have," he said. "But I think the big thing too is when they go to that site and see the number of community leaders who have joined – providing different services – it shows the level of activities and support that we have in this community. I think it shows that we have a lot going on over here, and that we're not just a small town that would be boring to come to."

Ryan McCrady, president and CEO of the Springfield Sangamon Growth Alliance, said there have been informal discussions within his group to offer incentives to get individuals to relocate to the Springfield area. But nothing has come of those discussions.

He noted the housing market in Springfield is tight, making it difficult for newcomers.

"People who have houses aren't putting them on the market," he said. "And the houses that do go on the market sell pretty darn quickly," he said.

McCrady added different communities need to take different approaches.

"I think a community should always work hard on the foundational things that make a community great," he said. "That's really going to be the best incentive program in the long run: great schools, good housing, a safe community, arts and cultural activities for people to do, restaurants and also a community that is friendly, kind and welcoming. You have to have all of those things in place, or any incentive program won't work. And when I look at Springfield, I think of those foundational qualities."

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].

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