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A Publication of WTVP

As we consider the future of smaller manufacturers, we are particularly concerned about manufacturers in small rural communities. Many of these companies operate as part of a supply chain within relatively "mature" industries. Profit margins are often lower for these firms, and competitive pressures greater. These companies have less access to highly-skilled labor and often have older equipment and facilities. Their remote locations often restrict access to new manufacturing practices/systems and the expertise they need to make improvements essential to their long-term survival. Finally, when such companies find they can no longer operate and shut their doors, their employees often cannot find satisfactory local employment opportunities, due to the small size of their rural economies.

Such plant closures can be devastating to the economic base of rural communities, and result in severe economic transition costs. To help prevent these scenarios from becoming reality, IMEC has field offices throughout rural Illinois, located in communities with concentrations of manufacturing companies. In addition, we’re developing strategies to help smaller manufacturers in or near small rural communities implement state-of-the-art manufacturing processes to help cut waste, save costs and become stronger links in the supply chain.

Finally, we are reaching out to build partnerships with economic development organizations, higher education, and other resources that will be essential to efforts to keep rural manufacturing as strong as possible in the years ahead.

Unlike agriculture, which is land intensive, there are fewer inherent advantages for manufacturing firms to locate in rural environments. At the same time, affordable transportation, improved Internet connectivity, and higher productivity improve the economic feasibility of doing business from a rural manufacturing base. Also, rural ecosystems are often better able to handle manufacturing affluents without serious long term impacts and can handle much higher levels of noise pollution in comparison to urban environments.

We need strong rural manufacturers to help maintain a balance in the metro area’s economic base. Rural manufacturing jobs help keep population levels—and levels of consumer demand—high enough to support the continued viability of rural communities as service and retail trade centers. When rural manufacturers fail, the devastating effect on employees, rural communities and their economic base is often too great to be absorbed, leading to a continuing downward spiral in the quality of life.

For all these reasons and many others, we need to work to ensure the continuing viability of rural-based manufacturing. The isolation of these companies, however, makes it harder and more expensive for them to access the resources needed to make improvements in their productivity. It’s in the long-term interest of rural communities, the state, and the nation, to help smaller manufacturers develop plans and implement improvements at their facilities for their continued competitiveness. IBI

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