James W. “Jim” Baldwin is Caterpillar vice president of Parts & Service Support Division. In this position he has responsibility for all worldwide Parts Distribution, Service Support, Parts & Service Marketing, and Pricing functions.
Baldwin joined Caterpillar in 1960 as a parts pricing analyst. He has held positions in marketing, logistics, and parts distribution. Baldwin has worked as manager of Parts Inventory Control, assistant manager of Parts Distribution, Logistics Support manager, and manager of Parts Distribution. He was named a Caterpillar vice president in 1991.
He is a member of the Corporate Quality Committee and the Corporate Diversity Council.
Baldwin was raised in southwestern Minnesota community of Edgerton, where his life-long appreciation of the outdoors was instilled. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor of science degree in industrial administration. While attending the University he was also business manager of the college newspaper–the largest college newspaper in the world at the time.
Baldwin is an avid fisherman, gardener, and sports enthusiast–particularly football, baseball and basketball. Baldwin was instrumental in bringing his friend, Bob Feller, to Peoria to meet fans and sign autographs at Peoria Chiefs’ games. Feller was one of the greatest pitchers of all time, playing with Cleveland Indians from 1936 to 1956, with a brief interruption for World War II.
Baldwin’s organizational activities and affiliations outside of Caterpillar include Business Executives for National Security, Heartland Water Resources Council, the University United Methodist Church, and the Peoria Riverfront Business District Commission (RBDC). He served as Commission chairman since 1994, and was recently named executive director of the Heartland Water Resources Council. In 1999, Baldwin was awarded the prestigious Frank Bellrose Award by The Nature Conservancy for his tireless dedication to enhancement and protection of natural resources.
He and his wife, Lou, have been married 42 years and have three children and nine grandchildren. Since moving to Peoria upon graduation from the University of Minnesota they have proudly called Peoria home.
Baldwin officially retired from Caterpillar April 1, after almost 40 years of distinguished service. Peoria will remain his home in his post-Caterpillar career.
Now that you’ve announced your retirement from Caterpillar can you tell us about your plans for the future?
Well first of all, when you’ve worked almost 40 years for the same company you get accustomed to, and almost dependent on, a certain amount of structure and discipline in the use to time and resources. So you can be sure I will keep busy even though I’m officially “retiring.”
While I’m not one of these people who “couldn’t wait for retirement,” I am looking forward to spending a lot more time with my wife Lou, our three children and nine grandchildren. Lou and I have been blessed with a wonderful family and many close friends. It will be nice to enjoy these relationships in a less hurried environment.
Second, my plan is to complete my term on the Peoria RBDC to the fullest and best of my abilities. I’ve already invested more than five years in this project and so much remains to be accomplished. My term ends in January 2001, and if anything, retirement from Caterpillar will give me a bit more time to spend on Commission work.
There are a couple more things I want to focus on during my post-Caterpillar career. For almost 30 years I’ve been concerned about the physical condition of the Illinois River and Peoria Lakes. One thing I will do is spend more time in helping save Peoria Lakes from siltation. Since 1988, I’ve been involved with the Heartland Water Resources Council. The Council’s board asked me to step in as director for the private sector. This will be fun, and it has a direct relationship with the RBDC. After all, you can’t have much of a riverfront if the river becomes a narrow barge channel surround by mud flats.
The other item I’m really excited about is finishing building a car … a street rod. A friend and I have been at this for two years. We’re doing it from scratch. This is one of those hobbies you always dream about but never can find the time. Well, we’re going to get it done if it kills us.
This is quite a challenge for two guys who haven’t even changed spark plugs in their regular cars. I just hope it starts when we turn the key.
People who know me well know that I also love fishing and gardening. These have been great stress relievers during my working years. Just think how much fun they will be now.
Without your Caterpillar base, do you feel you will still be as effective in leading the Commission?
Yes I do, because I’m just one of 15 members. And even though I tend to attract the most attention in my role as chairman, it is a very strong group of committed citizens. I think the Commission has been successful because every member shares the same dedication to make Peoria’s “welcome mat to the world” the very best it can be.
I want to add that I won’t be completely cut off from Caterpillar. The company invested a lot of money and volunteer resources in riverfront improvements. The lines of communication between the company and me will stay very strong. Sure, I won’t have a key to the place anymore, but you can be sure they’ll let me in.
Looking back at your career with Caterpillar, what accomplishments brought you the most satisfaction?
Three items come quickly to mind. First, I’ve been privileged to work with great people. Over the years we’ve built a first-class administrative team that will continue to provide Caterpillar customers throughout the world with the best product support available.
A few moments ago I mentioned spending more time with friends. Some of my very best friendships were made in the workplace. And even though I was the “boss” to many of these people, that didn’t get in the way of forming long-term and trusting relationships.
I’m also very proud of the role I played in starting an entirely new company within a company … Caterpillar Logistics Services. Cat Logistics has become a lot more successful than we ever anticipated … so successful that it now has it’s own vice president.
The other accomplishment that has been very gratifying was completion of the Caterpillar facility in Southtown. It might have taken 15 years from the time the groundbreaking occurred, but seeing the integration of Product Support personnel from nine other locations–and utilizing the building for its original intent–is very satisfying. And the fact that the 1,300 people who work there add to Peoria’s current economic excitement is also a definite plus.
I want to go back to the point you made earlier about the door at Caterpillar being “open” for you after retirement. How supportive has Caterpillar been to you and others in encouraging community leadership?
Caterpillar is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and from our history we know the company has a continuous track record of encouraging employees to be involved in worthwhile civic activities. It is part of our heritage, our culture. So it should be no surprise to know that Caterpillar’s support of my involvement in Peoria’s riverfront development is enormous.
This is especially so when you consider the millions of dollars they’ve contributed to our efforts, as well as the countless hours of Caterpillar time I’ve used to accomplished what has been, and will be, achieved.
But you’ve got to put the company’s support in perspective. It isn’t just support for Jim Baldwin. Consider for a moment what downtown, or Peoria for that matter, would be like if our world headquarters wasn’t located on Adams Street. The company’s investment in this city is huge. There are more than 4,000 employees working downtown. While I believe our work on Peoria’s riverfront is the single most important development project we have going today, I think the decision in the mid-1960s to build world headquarters in Peoria was the catalyst.
Tell us about your interest in the Illinois River and Peoria Lakes.
Lou and I were raised in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Our love of the outdoors and sparkling waterways was part of our upbringing in Minnesota. When we came to Peoria 40 years ago, we were understandably excited about using Peoria Lakes for recreation. You can imagine our disappointment to find that the Lakes at that time were extremely polluted, and that there were few fish. It was that shock that led us to years of advocacy of saving Peoria Lakes.
As the biological problems of pollution were corrected it became clear that siltation was going to cause the demise of the Lakes. In 1979, we purchased a cottage in Rome on the Illinois River when our children stopped wanting to go to Minnesota for fear of missing something in Peoria. Naturally, therefore, our involvement in many initiatives to save the Lakes increased as the problem literally lapped at our doorstep.
So, while for more than 20 years we’ve been spending our summers in Rome, we worry that instead of thousands of acres of water greeting us each morning, we’d have an insect infested mud flat.
In the past six years that you have been involved with The Riverfront Business District Commission, how has the relationship changed between the private and public sectors involved?
Well, anytime you deal with land, water, people, and politics you’re bound to have spirited discussion. And that’s fine because all of these elements affect the public and deserve debate–that’s what a representative democracy is all about. Having said that, there has been a marked change in the relationship. Perhaps this is due to the fact that as more physical things begin to take shape on the riverfront–whether it be green space, buildings, fountains and the like–the public’s interest increased.
Keep in mind that the RBDC was formed by the City Council itself in 1994, so the Council wouldn’t be tempted to micro-manage every item on the agenda. It was a good decision because the Council simply doesn’t have the time, or expertise, to oversee every single city function.
This strategy worked well with the Civic Center Authority, the Fire and Police Commission and other public bodies that benefit from a buffer between politics and common sense decision making. And it has worked well with the RBDC.
In 1994, when the Commission’s charter was under discussion by the Council, there was clear agreement that a separate body would have distinct advantages. If memory serves me correctly, there were three reasons. First, a Commission could focus on riverfront development and not be distracted by a host of competing policy issues. Second, a Commission could obtain private and public financing which the City had not been able to accomplish. And third, a Commission approach would bring into the development process an even broader perspective of local citizens.
Since 1994, I believe the Commission’s record has born out the wisdom of the original understanding. For example, in the past 1-1/2 years, several members of the City Council have varied from the original intent by micro-managing and second-guessing virtually every decision made by the RBDC–even though the Commission membership includes three Council people.
My general impression is that three or perhaps four Council members would not only like to stop future riverfront development, but in fact, stop some projects that are already in process.
I worry about the message this sends to potential new investors and developers. The Commission’s performance in attracting private financing–something the Council could not do–has been short of phenomenal thus far with commitments of $150 million. But often the current message from the fourth floor of City Hall is shrouded in negative and troubling language.
How has the vision of the Riverfront Business District Commission changed–positively and negatively?
You know, that’s the interesting thing in all this. The positive vision hasn’t changed. The original City ordinance spells out the vision for the RBDC pretty clearly. It says that the vision is “the promotion of revitalization and maintenance of said District by assuring opportunities for development or redevelopment and attracting sound and stable commercial growth.”
The Commission continues to follow the ordinance by providing the public amenities and infrastructure that brings about the very revitalization requested in the ordinance. But as I indicated, it’s getting more difficult–generally because of the efforts of a minority of Council members.
By becoming director of the Heartland Water Resources Council, what do you hope to accomplish? What are the pressing needs of the Illinois River? What progress has been made in the last 10 years regarding the siltation problem?
It’s extremely important to keep the momentum going to save Peoria Lakes. Heartland Water Resources Council, along with other members of the Peoria Lakes Basin Alliance–the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission and The Nature Conservancy of Illinois–have a long-term challenge ahead.
With Michael Platt leaving the Council in March to enter private business, the Heartland board was afraid that if a long period of time lapsed while looking for a new executive director, we could lose the momentum. So I volunteered to be the executive director.
Another thing to keep in mind is that I was involved with Bonnie Noble, Bob Frazee, Don Condit, Byron DeHaan, Don Roseboom, Otis Michels, Al Andrews and others to form the Council in early 1988. I have a history and familiarity with the organization and its potential.
Saving Peoria Lakes is a two-fold endeavor. First, to stop the silt from coming in, second, the selective removal of silt that has already accumulated. Several Federal and state programs spearheaded by Congressman Ray LaHood and Lt. Gov. Corrine Wood are imminent and address both issues. I believe we are truly on the threshold of making great strides in saving the Lakes.
If we don’t take action soon, Peoria Lakes will eventually become a swamp with willow thickets and mosquitoes.
Great progress has been made in cleaning up the river and lakes from the standpoint of pollution. The reduction of chemicals, bacteria, and other contaminates is fantastic. The purity of the water is now better than it has been in nearly 100 years. The remaining problem is the siltation. Runoff from farms has been greatly reduced with no-till and programs to take highly erodible land out of production, but more must be accomplished. The largest cause of siltation today is stream bank erosion and requires our attention.
You mentioned the selective removal of silt. Can you share the status of the continuing research by Caterpillar into the development of a river dredge?
Caterpillar, along with another local company, is continuing to develop a new system to remove silt from shallow water lakes without rehydrating the silt, or stirring it up in the water. This is important because you can remove more silt with less effort. Hopefully this unit will be tested in Peoria Lakes in 2001 with money obtained from the federal government by Congressman LaHood. The U.S. Corps of Engineers is already working on an implementation plan.
Besides this test project, Lt. Gov. Wood’s Illinois Rivers 2020 initiative could provide the financing to complete the restoration of Peoria Lakes, as well as funding to dramatically reduce the silt flowing into the Lakes.
Do you think the public has misconceptions about riverfront development and preservation of the Illinois River? Aren’t they both important to development?
Well, yes I do believe there is a misconception. Perhaps the biggest one is that riverfront development, or even overall downtown redevelopment, should be left entirely to the private sector. In reality, this is impossible because development simply cannot occur if the City infrastructure like streets, sewers, parks, parking and general public amenities aren’t modernized and improved. This was true when Washington Street was completely redesigned and rebuilt to accommodate Caterpillar’s world headquarters and parking deck in the mid 1960s, and it is true today with the riverfront.
Another misconception is that Peoria Lakes will remain as they are and the new development on the river’s edge will continue. If Peoria Lakes, all 13,000 acres of water, becomes a mosquito-infested swamp, not only will the projects on both sides of the river die, but I believe Peoria will decline also. Great American cities that were founded from a river inward–St. Louis, Cincinnati, Memphis–will remain great only if they protect, like Peoria, their greatest natural asset.
In a previous interview with InterBusiness Issues, more than four years ago, you applauded the City of Peoria and the Peoria Park District, and the City of Peoria and the Riverfront Business District Commission for their cooperation and vision. Is that true today? Who do you applaud now?
I am, by nature, an optimist. Heck, I even voted for creation of a River Conservancy District in April 1991. But even with the decibel level of the City Council’s negative voices I still believe the majority is supportive of what the Commission is trying to accomplish in all the joint projects with the Park District. The problem is that the squeaky wheels get most of the public attention.
I do have to say that it is a breath of fresh air to work with the Park District and their employees at all levels. They are truly a “gold medal” group helping to make Peoria a better place to live and raise our families.
And I want to take a moment to give the City of Peoria staff a pat on the back as well. They are a fine and strong professional group of men and women. The one thing I find most disappointing, and really embarrassing, is the manner in which some City Council members berate and cross-examine staff in the full glare of television and the public. If you have a strong difference of opinion it certainly should be discussed. Disagreements are natural, but they don’t have to be so “disagreeable.” Sometimes the administration needs to look a Councilperson in the eye and say, “enough is enough.”
What was the original riverfront development plan, as it regards restaurants? Has the City Council backtracked on their support?
The plan was the result of careful research, visits to several other successful American river cities, discussion with development professionals from throughout the country, and even looking at some of the great European river cities during my travels for Caterpillar.
The conclusion was clearly that parks and green space alone would not bring people to the riverfront year-round. We learned that next to wanting to be near the water, people wanted to eat and watch other people. After all, we don’t go to the malls to just shop.
Several groupings of popular restaurants were contemplated with the biggest concentration at Riverfront Village. There needs to be a critical mass of people to make restaurants, and all development for that matter, work and be successful. We knew going in that several national restaurant chains offered excellent quality, diversity, and financial wherewithal to participate in the private/public partnership that characterizes our riverfront strategy.
But now it seems that a vocal minority of the City Council is trying to destroy that vision and insure that no national chain restaurants are allowed to succeed on the riverfront. Their strategies range from trying to overturn incentive parking plans agreed on with developers and owners, to outright refusal on companies like Hooters. As I said a few moments ago, this sends a negative and dampening message to anyone wanting to invest in riverfront improvement.
What message would you like to send to the business community in regard to riverfront development?
You know, in retrospect, it is not just riverfront development. It seems that any proposal to expand the economic vitality of this community through time-tested private/public cost sharing and partnership is under attack.
Remember in the mid-1980s, when Peoria would have turned cartwheels for any new development? Heck, people were even talking about turning off the lights. But now that we have good economic momentum, and real progress to point to, it seems we look for reasons to stop it.
If continued development of the riverfront, downtown, and other growth areas are desirable to maintain a vibrant city where businesses want to come and or stay, we need an entire City Council that is devoted to the task. Perhaps that suggests that the only long-term remedy be through the ballot box in 2001.
You and your wife gave a generous gift to Springdale Cemetery recently, when it truly needed to be rescued. What is your interest in this historic place?
The real credit goes to those dedicated Peorians who raised our awareness to the horrible state of affairs that had befallen the cemetery. I think Councilman Chuck Grayeb deserves a special thank you on this one, he started sounding the alarm before it became popular.
Springdale was originally planned as an arboretum/cemetery. The last owner had nearly destroyed the park-like atmosphere, as well as nearly destroying its capability to function as a cemetery. The Springdale Historic Preservation Group seemed to be the only hope that the cemetery could be restored to its original grandeur. After all, a walk through the cemetery is a walk through Peoria’s proud history. Our gift was designed to help the Preservation Group gain creditability, as well as kickoff their fall clean-up project.
Even though Lou and I weren’t born in Peoria, it has become our home, and Springdale should be a lasting part of our Peoria heritage.
You have always been community-minded, and said, “I will continue to do what I’m doing as long as I’m wanted and as long as I’m having fun.” Now that you are “retired,” it would appear volunteer work will still keep you in a “full-time” job. Are you still having fun?
The short answer is yes. The longer version is that, even with the frustrations that seem to go with riverfront development effort these days, there is tremendous satisfaction in looking at what has been accomplished and the vision we have for Peoria’s future. It’s kind of funny, really.
I used to think at times that Leonard Marshall, who really got the present era of riverfront development moving again, was too intense and sometimes came across as a heavy. Well now I know why. Development work and sustainable progress isn’t for the timid or tepid. In fact, a friend told me that I was recently referred to as an 800-pound gorilla. You know what? Gorillas aren’t all bad–after all, aren’t they an endangered species?
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
Lou and I have been married 42 years and she has been with me not only during all my 40 years at Caterpillar, she has stood with me in my volunteer work as well. When she and I were talking about this interview she asked the question, “Why is Peoria such a great place? Why do we love it so much?”
You know those are good questions, especially when I rethink some of my answers during this interview. But really, Peoria is a great place, a place we call “home” and are proud to do so.
We think Peoria is a great place because it is a great big small town. We have all the amenities and attractions of cities five times our size, but without the travel and hassle headaches. You can drive less than 15 minutes and be anywhere–the riverfront or the beautiful rolling countryside near Jubilee Park. Prices for groceries aren’t out of line. We have good places to eat. And best of all, we have Bradley basketball and IHSA March Madness. IBI