Despite concerns that Illinois' financial situation is stalling economic development across the state, Quad-City leaders say budget woes are not thwarting regional efforts to attract new business and investment.
"We haven't seen that we have lost any deals because of the state of Illinois (situation)," said Liz Murray Tallman, the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce's chief economic development officer and director of its economic development arm, Quad-Cities First.
But she stressed that the chamber's approach is to market the Quad-Cities as a single region.
"We're the same economy, the same workforce, the same assets in terms of buildings and sites," she said of the bi-state region. "We don't concentrate on the differences."
While prospects and site consultants may bring preconceived ideas about Illinois based on its financial house, Tallman said "If we get a Request for Proposal (RFP), we are able to show them that here in the Quad-Cities we are just fine."
In Moline, city officials say development actually is on the rise with millions of dollars in new investment underway and planned throughout the city. Among the projects is The Q multi-modal station and hotel, new downtown loft housing, SouthPark Mall's redevelopment, and new construction along John Deere Road.
According to Moline Mayor Stephanie Acri, the arrival of key infrastructure projects including passenger rail, John Deere Road widening and the new Interstate 74 bridge also will attract new development.
Ray Forsythe, Moline's planning and development director, said the city's momentum could be insulating it from negative impacts related to the state's financial situation. "Because we have such good momentum, we're not letting the state budget crisis slow us down...," he said.
Tallman said a study of the RFPs that Quad-Cities First has received from outside sources, such as site consultants, also indicates interest in the Illinois Quad-Cities is rising.
She said of the requests received in the current fiscal year, 63 percent of the requests indicated a willingness to look at the Illinois Quad-Cities. That was up from 42 percent in fiscal 2016 and 44 percent in fiscal 2015.
But of the successful projects — those projects that did end up expanding or relocating in the Quad-Cities, she said Iowa has taken the lead in the past two years.
In the current fiscal year, 40 percent of the successful projects to date have landed in Illinois vs. 60 percent in Iowa.
By comparison, 38 percent of the projects were in Illinois the prior year and 50 percent were in Illinois in fiscal 2015.
But Tallman added that prior to Davenport landing the Kraft Heinz and Sterilite deals last year, the Illinois Quad-Cities also was leading the way in new industrial-based construction.
Bi-state retail growth
Chris Wilkins, vice president/director with NAI Ruhl Commercial Co., said Illinois' political situation is a topic that real estate agents generally try to avoid. "But certainly it comes up. The economy scares people. We do have some real estate investors that absolutely won't look in Illinois. That is a new phenomenon in the last five years."
But he said that attitude is unjustified. "The Illinois consumer still has to eat, still has to shop."
"We try not to hammer on the struggles of Illinois," he said, adding "We carefully measure what we say about Illinois."
Wilkins believes retail activity around SouthPark, including the Dick's Sporting Goods store and a planned Olive Garden restaurant, as well as the new retail development near Walmart are a sign "it's going in the right direction."
Politics aside, he said the Iowa Quad-Cities still continues to be a stronger draw for retailers. "The lion's share of retailers who come to this market, their first store always is Iowa," Wilkins said, adding it is rare for a new retailer to build on both sides initially.
"They're not scared of (Illinois)," he said. "But the perception is that the Iowa Quad-Cities is a better option, the demographics is better."
The latest example — a deal with which Wilkins is involved — is Costco's plans to open its first Quad-City store to Davenport.
Tallman said the chamber's focus is on recruiting primary industries to the region. But if a development lead comes from the state of Iowa and the prospect only wants to look at Iowa, that request is honored. The same is true if the lead is generated by Illinois. "It is not shared with Iowa," she said.
But with leads that Quad-Cities First generates on its own or that come directly from site consultants, "we ask if they are willing to look at the entire region," she said.
Among existing Illinois Quad-City companies, Tallman said there has been an increase in the number talking about relocating to Iowa because of the business environment.
"We don't really see movement of a company from one community to another as economic growth," she said, adding that the goal is to keep them, if possible, in their existing community.
In fact, all the Quad-City communities have signed a memorandum of understanding in which they agree to "a no-poaching rule," Tallman said.
The first preference is that a company remain in its current city. But if a company can't expand its existing location, or find another suitable site, she said "then we try to retain them in the Quad-Cities."
According to Tallman, companies may think "the grass may look greener" but when economic developers show them statistics comparing the two sides "in some cases, we're able to show them that operationally, it isn't that different to move. It might be better for them to grow right where they're at."