A Publication of WTVP

Our region is distinguished for its freight transportation and logistics assets. We have a world-class logistics infrastructure, shaped by a history of manufacturing, distilling and processing along the Illinois River. “Our region has tremendous potential for warehouse and distribution center operations, as well as direct support activities such as equipment leasing and servicing,” according to the Heart of Illinois Regional Port District (TransPORT) director, Steve Jaeger. “There is also potential for increased logistics planning and management services, along with technical consulting services including third-party logistics providers.”

Globalization, intermodalism and the economy are now the waves that shape our transportation landscape. Is our region prepared for a future in transportation that includes: volatile fuel prices, transportation industry consolidations, workforce shortages, environmental concerns and aggressive cost reductions? That is what one strategy group for the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois (EDC) set out to discern.

Formed as part of the EDC’s restructuring for growth process in 2007, the Intermodal Logistics Strategy Group is one of 11 groups focused on the economic growth and stability of our region. It was established because of the critical importance of transportation and logistics industry to the future economic growth and development of the five-county region surrounding the Illinois River in the heart of our state. With a world-class logistics infrastructure comes world-class challenges that need to be met.

The EDC Chief Operating Officer Vickie Clark stated, “Our economic development council is fortunate to have a direct relationship with TransPORT, a sister agency within the Heartland Partnership. Combining TransPORT’s staff and board expertise with the logistics experience of strategy group members creates a vantage point for our region.”

“Logistics in our region involves not only trucks and trains, but the movement of freight through the General Wayne A. Downing International Airport and bulk cargo up and down the Inland Waterway via our Illinois River,” said Maureen McNamara, project manager for TransPORT and a member of the strategy group. “Our region has direct routes to every national and international market and port.” Other key members included:

In a recent presentation, the group outlined the results of its project to identify and prioritize future challenges facing our region’s transportation and logistics growth. Led by Russ Crawford, a Six Sigma Black Belt, the team used this methodology to determine the regional logistics issues for both freight and passenger

Because the most common experience of transportation is that of the passenger, it stands to reason that passenger transportation is important to most people. The group identified the availability of passenger rail and air transportation as high priorities, as well as the development of a perimeter road whereby business and leisure travelers can readily access main road routes. The ability to access national and global destinations is seen as a huge factor in regional desirability for commercial enterprise and “quality of life,” which attracts and retains highly skilled employees. Along with enhancing routes of passenger transportation, the group is examining strategies to bolster cargo transportation via air and water ports, developing these as preferred points of origin for local inbound and outbound cargo.

Another priority is to raise general awareness about the crucial role of logistics as a competitive advantage in attracting and growing business in the region. Few consumers ever think about all the steps involved in getting the product they want to a place near them at a price they can afford. But businesses and jobs related to the distribution of goods is growing rapidly. Supply chain management jobs are well-paid and diverse, with many routes to success. Workforce development in this industry can begin as early as high school, targeting talented students for internships and classes that develop highly desirable skills. Students can begin careers in operations with a high school education, applying themselves to learning on the job, and create careers with earnings averaging $50,000 per year. As distribution center managers or inventory control specialists, salary expectations could increase to $60,000 per year, with sufficient skill and experience. Employees with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in supply chain management and logistics can aspire to $80,000 per year. Many executive-level jobs in transportation and logistics command salaries upward from $100,000 per year.

It is expected that the largest amount of growth in the logistics industry over the next decade will come from planning and management services, warehousing and distribution center operations. However, the industry will face serious shortages of qualified workers. These shortages will be at all levels, ranging from logistics, transportation and distribution center managers, information technology support workers, truck drivers, distribution center operators, material handlers, and machinery and transportation equipment
maintenance workers.

The Intermodal Logistics Strategy Group identified five major occupational clusters where workforce shortages need to be addressed:

  1. Administrative and operational support
  2. Transportation operations
  3. Material handling
  4. Supervisors and managers
  5. Transportation maintenance.

A number of factors contribute to these shortages. In transportation operations, new Department of Transportation regulations mandating the hours of service for drivers are requiring businesses to hire more drivers to cover existing routes. Contributing to the driver shortage are irregular hours, overnight assignments and a lack of local training programs. In the material-handling field, entry-level jobs require basic computer and communications skills, along with the ability to operate heavy machinery. Both occupations are subject to increasing background checks and successful drug screenings.

The availability of local education and training programs is a key factor to maintaining an adequate supply of qualified transportation workers. Locally, only Western Illinois University offers a degree program in logistics, transportation or supply chain management. Employers are forced to recruit outside our region from nationally-known programs at Michigan State University, Purdue and Tennessee.

Some of the recommendations and next steps for the strategy group include creating more industry visibility and awareness, enhancing career awareness in order to change the stereotypical perceptions of logistics jobs, investigation and gap analysis of existing training programs, and working with local colleges and training firms to create and strengthen local instructional opportunities. iBi