SHELBYVILLE – For Jeff Johnson, stretching boundaries is both a metaphorical and literal ambition.
“We try different things, different ways and work with different groups and hopefully the mix leads to growth, economically, and in the size of our city,” Shelbyville's mayor said.
Johnson and other Shelbyville leaders are hoping the appeal of small-town life near the 11,000 recreational juggernaut of Lake Shelbyville will attract more residents and more businesses. With three major employers expanding and new small businesses, the community is turning to volunteers to help spread the message that new residents are welcome.
Shelby County Economic Development Director David Young said Shelbyville’s growth, along with other countywide expansions, can be directly traced to volunteer efforts.
“Small towns don’t have the resources, in time or money to do a lot of things needed to attract new business,” he said. “That’s where volunteers come in. We're fortunate to have volunteers who all want the same thing and know how to work together to get the job done.”
Volunteers are currently lobbying legislators and area providers to upgrade rural broadband service in the area. Young said expanding Internet service could change the face of rural communities.
“In many ways rural broadband expansion is like the rural electric cooperative expansions of the 1930s,” he said. “Rural electricity changed the face of communities and offered more options for jobs and families. Broadband can do the same.”
With the Internet providing more career and business options, Johnson said Shelbyville had to be ready. The city’s involvement in development includes establishing Tax Increment Financing districts to provide building improvement money and business districts that help pay for infrastructure upgrades.
“It’s important to have a partnership between the city and business” he said. “We keep trying different things to find out what works.”
Major employer International Paper has expanded their employment base and auto parts manufacturer IHI Turbo has added on to their buildings and workforces. Welding students from Shelbyville High School have obtained internships at IHI Turbo while other students learn 21st century technology including using the school's 3-D printer.
“We want our students to have the opportunity to make a good living, one that supports a family, and stay in the area,” Shelbyville High School principal Rich Stuart said. “Businesses like IHI Turbo help us provide that opportunity.”
One business changing the landscape, literally, is technology and software company Software Solutions Inc. Dave Craft, vice president of marketing, said when the company’s two-story addition in the downtown area is completed this summer, it will add work and training space.
“Right now we don’t have enough room for additional employees,” Craft said. “The second floor of the addition will be office space and the first floor will be a more public space where we can have more customer-focused training and events.”
Finding new workers homes to live in is a priority for Johnson and Young.
“We’re interested in new subdivisions and working with people who want to bring new housing to the area,” Johnson said. “Having housing is an important part of the development equation.”
Johnson also hopes residents will spend their money locally. In addition to almost a dozen new businesses opened in the last year and a new building supply store under construction, national chains like Dollar Tree and Taco Bell are coming to Shelbyville in 2016.
“Taco Bell has an interest in smaller towns and rural areas,” said John Kallergis, partner in The Twins Group, an Evanston-based restaurant group.
Kallergis said encouragement from local leaders was an important factor in deciding to build a new restaurant on Illinois 16, Shelbyville’s Main Street.
“Shelbyville has been great to work with as we put this together,” he said. “I can’t say enough about how professional and encouraging (mayor) Jeff Johnson has been.”
The current and potential growth has Young optimistic about the future.
“We have two big industries that together employ 1,500 people, five or 600 people in other industries, more small businesses and a terrific tourism attraction. The entire area is full of growth. We had been a community where most of the people worked out of town, the paychecks were going out. Now we’re seeing a better balance and the paychecks are staying in town. People are starting to see this,” Young said.
“We know we all win when we work together as a team,” Johnson said.