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Decatur should focus on the future

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It's a list no one wants to be on, a headline no one in Decatur wants to see.

But there it is, Decatur has the second fastest-shrinking economy in the United States, according to a study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The study shows that Decatur had a decline in what is called Gross Metro Product of 4.8 percent in 2013. Gross Metro Product is similar to the gross domestic product, although measured on a city level. At any rate, a decline of nearly 5 percent isn't good.

The news isn't predicted to get much better in 2014. The study projected that the GMP would improve by only .8 percent in Decatur.

The employment statistics aren't really news to folks in Decatur, although some might be surprised to learn that the 4.2 percent drop in employment was the worst in the nation.

Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said the study is a clear indication that the current state policies aren't working. “Our focus should be on creating good-paying jobs for working-class Illinoisans who want a helping hand, not a handout. We need to fundamentally change our jobs and tax policies in Springfield if we’re going to turn things around and get Illinois working again.”

Hard to disagree with that statement.

The Decatur economy – especially in the employment sector – has long focused on manufacturing. As those jobs have been moved elsewhere, or replaced by technology, the community's employment opportunities have declined. The last year has been especially rough, primarily because a decline in the global mining industry has caused a drop in the production of mining trucks and other equipment at the Decatur Caterpillar plant.

Larry Altenbaumer, interim president of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County and one of the founders of Grow Decatur, correctly emphasized that the study is a ``snapshot'' of Decatur's economic situation.

But he also pointed out that changes are in the works. The Midwest Inland Port – which is envisioned to combine rail, air and transportation to transform Decatur into a hub for logistics and warehousing – could add employment to the community. If Mitchell and other members of the General Assembly want to help, one option might be to develop incentives to lure those types of industries to Decatur.

The city council also approved this week an $89 million Lake Decatur dredging project that would enhance the city's water supply.

This study isn't the first time that Decatur has been the subject of bad news, and it won't be the last.

No one can roll back the calendar and change what has happened. The only option is to continue making wise investments that will reap benefits in the future.

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