A Publication of WTVP

When it comes to business, few subjects elicit as much discussion as the workforce. In Morton, our companies have been extremely successful at job creation over the past decade. Per the 2008 census, they collectively employ 12,566 people, an increase of 24 percent from 2002 to 2008. Comparatively, our MSA grew by 7.2 percent and the State of Illinois grew by 2.3 percent during the same time period. And just over the past two years, our Morton EDC clients created over 600 new jobs in our community. But their workforce struggles remain front and center!

In a recent discussion with local human resource professionals, there were three primary workforce issues that everyone wanted to discuss. And since our job at the Morton EDC is to solve business problems, we were all ears.

The extension of unemployment benefits has been a real struggle for Morton companies trying to hire new employees. The longer we extend unemployment benefits, the longer it takes people to seriously consider a new job. Several local business representatives discussed recent instances in which a good job applicant declined their offer because they were receiving a benefit extension.

In a report published in 2009 by the Heritage Foundation, James Sherk, Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy for its Center for Data Analysis, writes that the consequences of extended unemployment benefits are some of the most conclusively established results in labor economic research. “Extending either the amount or the duration of UI benefits increases the length of time that workers remain unemployed. UI benefits reduce the incentive unemployed workers have to search for new work and to make difficult choices—such as moving or switching industries—to begin a new job.”

Of the available alternatives to unemployment insurance, the Heritage Foundation believes that privatization through the use of individual unemployment accounts (IUA) may be the best option for employers and employees alike. An IUA is a mandatory and portable individual trust to which the employer and employee contribute. By moving away from a use-it-or-lose-it system, workers would not forgo benefits when they find a job quickly, because they own the portable unemployment account and take that money with them for possible future use. This is something we should consider promoting with our federal and state legislators, especially considering our current budget woes on both fronts.

In addition to the unemployment benefits extension, our employers are struggling to find people who have welding and other technical manufacturing skills. Illinois Central College’s new facility in Pekin has helped to boost our welder workforce pool, but the virtual extinction of trade programs in our high schools has been challenging. I want to applaud the efforts of the EDC of Central Illinois’ Manufacturing Strategy Team, a group working on creating better connections between schools and manufacturers through career days and other programs. We need to continue educating our students, parents, teachers and career counselors about the need for welders and the opportunities that exist in the advanced manufacturing field in central Illinois.

Our roundtable meeting ended with a discussion on gas prices. So what does that have to do with our workforce? Plenty! Forty-eight percent of the people who work in Morton drive 20 minutes or more to work each day. As gas prices rise, it is tougher to recruit and retain these needed commuters. ciCarpool, a new online ridesharing program launched by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission in January, can help our regional commuters match up with one another to share rides to work. The program is free for individuals and shares the support of many local employers including Caterpillar Logistics, OSF Saint Francis and Morton Industries. While not a solution for everyone, ciCarpool is a great new tool for our workforce recruitment and retention efforts. For more information or to sign up, visit

I walked away from our roundtable discussion feeling proud of Morton’s workforce achievements, but concerned about the problems we face when it comes to recruiting and retaining the talent our companies need. While Morton has boasted a 24-percent increase in job creation since 2002, we still have work do to support that job growth. The availability and quality of people is central to any business’ success or failure. And although unemployment benefit extensions, welder training and commuting options might not sound exciting to some, you can bet all three will be on my work plan this year. iBi