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What does Southern Illinois have to offer to surrounding developers or companies looking to relocate?

Southern Illinois is the home to beautiful national parks, a research-first university and a healthcare system that is expanding and growing with each passing year. Doing business can be easier in the bottom half of the state, along with the cost of land and an educated workforce waiting for jobs to fill.

There are two airports, one which is used for commercial flights and the other for hangar space, a training facility and home to one of the medical marijuana cultivation facilities.

Other features involve active port districts, rail transportation, cheaper cost of living, easy access to interstates and only a few hours away from several different major metropolitan cities.

There is a lot for Southern Illinoisans to be proud of when thinking about what it has to offer.


Southern Illinois Healthcare and Heartland Regional Medical Center are two of the major healthcare models in the region. Franklin Hospital in Benton has been featured in healthcare publications in the past.

Phil Schaefer, vice president physician and ambulatory services for SIH, said the key to a great healthcare model is bringing in the right physicians.

“I think the area is very deceiving,” he said. “If you look at Southern Illinois on the map, the totality of the area doesn’t present the same scenario that you see once you get here.”

He said SIH is successful in getting high-qualified physicians to relocate to the area once they come to visit the area. Cost of living, Southern Illinois University, and the advantages offered in terms of education, social and culture activities are all contributors to recruitment.

“It is a good place to raise kids,” Schaefer said. “All of those things go together to make it an area that makes it attractive for physicians.”

He said nothing attracts good physicians like other good, highly qualified physicians.

“Physicians want to work with colleagues they respect, people they enjoy being with and folks that will support each other as a team while caring for a patient,” he said.

Schaefer said there are many procedures happening in Southern Illinois that patients wouldn’t necessary expect for a rural area.

He said there is a trained cancer surgeon that is doing complex cancer surgeries, including on the pancreas.

“That is the type of thing that in the past, patients would have had to drive to St. Louis for,” he said.

There is also an electrophysiologist, and physicians in the catheterization laboratory that are performing procedures to correct abnormal rhythms in the heart, Schaefer said.

Another rarity to Southern Illinois, according to Schaefer, is a vascular surgeon who recently did the first awake carotid endarterectomy. That involves opening up a carotid artery and taking our blockages, but the procedure happened while the patient was awake and was too sick to tolerate anesthesia.

“These are all things that come from having very talented physicians who are trained in major medical centers all over the country,” Schaefer said.

He said the procedures give patients the option to stay local for complex procedures. But, they aren’t going to stick around Southern Illinois just because of ease; they're going to stay because they are assured they are going to get the same level of care.

Ease of Business and educated workforce

Interim Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams said Southern Illinois presents advantages to small business owner or developer wanting to get started.

He said, in general, setting up a business can be easy in the region because of the advantages of SIU Small Business Development Center, working with local governments and making the right connections to move processes along.

“I think those things are easy,” Williams said.

Constructing a new building, developing new property, remodeling new buildings or anything that requires city approval building, planning or zoning perspective can be “exceptionally” easy here, he said.

“Most urban markets are far more cumbersome,” he said. “Entitlements along for a development in the Chicagoland areas could take two year to get.”

For example, Williams said, a commercial building such as IHOP, can get through planning review in Carbondale in about two weeks, but in a metropolitan city, that same process could take about 6 to 9 months, maybe longer depending on the amount of backlog.

Williams admitted there are few setbacks for the region, especially when attempting to land major retail stores because of the lack of traffic. Those businesses want to know there is a growing population, abundance of traffic and that there is an availability of customers.

Although Southern Illinois has an educated workforce ready to fill open jobs, Williams said the attractiveness of that to businesses is dependent on the type of industry.

“The junior college system is usually the education system that is more attractive to manufacturing companies,” he said. “Whereas a research university, the focus is much broader, and is on educating students and preparing them for graduate work or professional degrees.”

However, Williams said there is a lot of research that suggests having a research university in a community is a great amenity.

“It acts as a magnet to draw people from the outside, and typically communities with a research university, especially in a rural region, those cities tend to grow faster than comparable cities without a university."

Airports, rail and port transportation

Doug Kimmel, Williamson County Regional Airport director, said the Marion-based airport offers a few different benefits to the region, including commercial air service.

He said from a business standpoint, the significance can be easily seen.

“When businesses are trying to bring in a client or hire new employees from out of town, the ability to have them fly directly into our region and know we have that connection to the outside world, instead of having to be driven from Missouri, Tennessee or Indiana to get here is paramount,” Kimmel said. “It is hours, it's money, it's connectivity that any region should be able to offer.”

Cape Air offers six round-trip daily flights Monday through Friday and then three each on Saturday and Sunday to St. Louis. Kimmel said the tickets are $49 one-way, and the ticket price is the same regardless of time of purchase.

He said the airport plays a vital role in the community, and if the airport is successful, the community within should reflect that success.

“When you have a growing, vibrant region such as Southern Illinois, this facility is really a component of the region’s transportation infrastructure that should be realizing the same things, and planning and developing to accommodate those things,” Kimmel said.

The airport is in the middle of constructing what will be a $60 million project for a new terminal at the airport. Kimmel said the project has generally more than 100 constructions as of November.

He said phase one of the terminal should be complete by early 2016, which involves the exterior construction. Airport officials are hopeful phase two, meaning the inside of the building, can be finished by September 2016. Kimmel said he would like to have a Veteran’s Day opening in 2016.

On the tracks, Southern Illinois offers direct routes to Chicago, by way of Amtrak. There are two different routes leaving Carbondale each day and other routes each day that heads to New Orleans.

There is concern that the state budget could cut some of those services, but there has been no word from the state about the status of those conversations regarding rail service.

Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, said high-speed rail is something that could greatly benefit the region.

“People need to continue to tell their people in Springfield that they want their trains to be faster and more often,” he said. “What we have today is nowhere close to high speed.”

Harnish said the organization is attempting to convince the state to build a high-speed line from Chicago to Champaign, and then split it off to Indiana and Springfield areas. He said the trains would travel about 200 miles an hour.

“We imagine some of those trains continuing down south to the Carbondale region,” he said.

Waters in Southern Illinois are managed by the ports district, which are set up by state statute, but by their nature, are an economic development entity, said Ed Weilbacher, general manager of the Kaskaskia Regional Port District.

“We help facilitate transportation by rail or water and keep materials from have to be transported on the roads, which in turn, helps diminish wear-and-tear on local highways and interstates. Sometime trucks can carry hundreds of pounds of materials,” he said.

Weilbacher said there are 230 jobs directly correlated to the rivers government by the Kaskaskia Port District itself. There are several more spinoff jobs connected to that.

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on twitter: @zd2000



Dustin Duncan is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering Carbondale.

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