Will County economic development on the rise

Megann Horstead | 10/3/2018, 4 p.m.
A new report released by the Workforce Investment Board of Will County shows that economic development in Will County has ...

A new report released by the Workforce Investment Board of Will County shows that economic development in Will County has grown in more ways than one during the second quarter of 2018.

A snapshot is generated quarterly and is used to help inform and guide area schools, businesses and training providers in supporting residents.

“It’s saying that jobs in healthcare, transportation and logistics, manufacturing, and administrative support are among the highest anticipated industries as far as growth,” said Caroline Portlock, director of the Workforce Investment Board of Will County. “They continue to be areas of high growth and demand for Will County.”

Portlock said it is not a surprise that transportation is one of the highest-growing sectors in Will County.

The communities of Joliet and Elwood help make the county home to the nation’s largest inland port.

“What we do is we train [people] for jobs in high-growth industries,” Portlock said. “We want to make sure when they receive training or schooling they can get a job. We work closely with the Will County Center for Economic Development and local employers to make sure what people have what they need to be successful. We work with Joliet Junior College and the University of St. Francis to make sure they’re taught, or trained, in what they need. It’s up to the industry to provide the higher level specificities needed for the job thereafter.” “The collaboration between area schools and training providers has stepped up over the years, and it allows students to be set up better for success.”

“In my time at Will County, it’s improved,” she said. “The lines of communication have opened up between schools and businesses the last 4 to 6 years, at which point we were bouncing back from the recession. There were a lot of silos. We’re breaking down those barriers. In the last 4 to 6 years, it’s gotten better.”

The economic development report for the second quarter of 2018 indicates that Will County’s unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent, a slight decrease from the prior period. That statistic places the county in line with the State of Illinois’ average.

Doug Pryor, vice president of economic development for the Will County Center for Economic Development, said the data is very encouraging to see.

“We’re in a period of time where unemployment is low locally, statewide and nationwide,” he said. “It’s indicative of people finding good career matches in the local economy.”

Pryor said he and other community leaders talk a lot about workforce development, what people need today, and what they will need in the future.

He continued, ”The truth is, when they think of the future of the workforce, we think not only of new technology”, but also the real world applications it can be applied to.

Pryor credits the collaborative work of educational institutions, such as Joliet Junior College, for responding to the ever-changing landscape that new technology creates.

When asked how the college balances the need to respond to the economy's ever-changing demands for skilled workers with continuing traditions, Joliet Junior College President Dr. Judy Mitchell said it takes “unlimited imagination to rethink the purpose and function of higher education.”