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Column: We’ve got water, yes we do, in our safe oasis

Craig Sterrett
Craig Sterrett

For years, La Salle, Peru, Oglesby and Spring Valley-area economic development leaders have promoted our obvious geographical attributes. Four that popped up frequently were location near the junction of cross-country interstates 80 and 39, access to rail, proximity to a community college for training and commercial barge traffic on the Illinois River.

Three decades ago, when the area and Illinois had thousands of skilled workers looking for work, mayors, including the late Donald Baker, took a recruitment trip to Japan.

The longtime Peru mayor’s outreach led to construction of Unytite fastener plant and Eakas injection-molding auto parts factories in Peru. About the same time, Mitsuboshi (MBL) built its plant in Ottawa and Mitsubishi constructed its massive auto plant in Bloomington.

Various factors, including tax incentives, attracted those employers to Peru.

In the 1980s, closings of heavy industry factories, plating shops and Westclox left household leaders throughout the area looking for good jobs.

We had the workers, and the investors from overseas delivered jobs.

But do we here in La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties take some of our other assets for granted?

Sure, we have light traffic, excellent state parks and agricultural land that can grow more than corn and soybeans.

We also have water.

Plenty of water — unlike many heavily populated areas that are dealing with some major issues.

I recently griped about the temperature outside to a cashier at a business.

A sobering response echoed back.

“At lease my house isn’t burning down,” she said.

She came from California and said many of her friends’ parents had houses damaged or destroyed by one of the wildfires that were raging in October.

And when she was young, she and her family lost their home and possessions in a mudslide after a previous wildfire.

She told me she doesn’t plan to return to California.

And I doubt she’s alone. Surely there are some employers who’d love to get out of California. In addition to the fire dangers, wildfire-prevention measures such as scheduled power outages caused inconvenience and misery this year.

States such as Colorado and Arizona frankly don’t have the water they need to support their populations. And farmers in much of Nebraska and portions of other Great Plains states rely almost completely on irrigation to keep crops alive.

Other than a few sandy hillsides, you’ll rarely find irrigation systems on La Salle, Bureau and Putnam county farmland. And here, the government won’t tell you how long of shower you can take — though your spouse or parents might.

To some corners of America, our spot in the Midwest may well look like an oasis.

Who knows? Maybe some employers and entrepreneurs living in the dry, fire-ravaged locations might just love our area — especially if Illinois can solve its public-pension problem and rethinks corporate taxes.

Craig Sterrett can be reached at (815) 220-6935 or csterrett@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_NewsEditor.

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