The Ninth Annual Business Appreciation Breakfast sponsored by the City of Litchfield and the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation was held Monday morning at the Litchfield campus of Lincoln Land Community College.
Doug Wilson, state director of USDA Rural Development, expressed his passion for what makes rural communities prosper. He highlighted some of the 40 programs his organization offers to businesses and rural communities. USDA can give load guarantees for businesses, work with energy programs, help with single family housing and support jobs training.
Some of his department's recent accomplishments included two $250,000 grants to the Jersey County Hospital. One for an opioid clinic and the other for tele-medicine to help with disease prevention. The Macoupin County Health Department received $500,000 in community development loans.
"When rural development shows up, someone's life is going to improve," he stressed.
U.S. Congressman Rodney Davis spoke of the commitment to the "last mile" in the past for rural electrification and water. He supports broadband access for everyone which is now included in the standard of services in the new Ag Bill that passed recently. "It's the only way to get the last mile covered," he said.
He stated his pleasure with the economy doing very well. "The tax cut has helped bring down unemployment to historic lows," he said "and medical communities are still growing jobs."
Davis stated that by Jan. 1, 2020, cannabis will be legal in Illinois. Federal laws are in conflict with Illinois' legalization efforts. He is working to help balance on the federal level, banking rules for the handling of money, and law enforcement to help ease the transition to legalized cannabis.
Davis stated that the next transportation bill will include Rt. 66 as a nationwide priority.
During questions following the program, Davis felt that bipartisanship in government is more prevalent than most people think. "We're here to govern, and at the end of the day you have to work with those who are elected," he said.
State Representative Avery Bourne expressed her concern that though the economic growth in the United States for the first quarter this year was 2.2%, here in Illinois it grew only 1.3% "What are we doing wrong?" she asked. She feels that the minimum wage increase will slow efforts to improve local rural economies.
The governor's graduated income tax proposal, which requires a constitutional amendment, worries her. Bourne stated that the tax rates are not tied to the amendment and there is absolutely no promise on the rates not going up. "Doubling down on tax increases won't help the Illinois economy," she said.
The proposal to skip pension payments by the governor for his proposed budget is "just terrible policy," she stated."One dollar skipped now will cost $11 down the road." She noted that 25 percent of the budget goes to pension payments now, if payments are missed, this will balloon and cost more in the long-term.
Bourne expressed her desire for an independent redistricting committee in response to a question. She stated that Congressman Davis' district is the perfect example of why we need an independent committee. "The people should be picking who represents them, not the candidates picking their voters," she stressed. This is not just an Illinois problem, "You see this across the country, with both parties, vying to keep control," she said.
Randy Sikowski, downstate director for U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth acknowledged that small business is the backbone of the U.S. economy. He hopes to see improvement in small business administration programs and to help small businesses succeed.
He also urged any students interested in the military academies to investigate the opportunity. The time to apply is when students are juniors in high school.
Valerie Belusko, MCEDC executive director, spoke of the importance of broadband to Montgomery County and the work of MCEDC that led to CTI, a Taylorville firm, expanding to Hillsboro, Nokomis, Taylor Springs, Schram City, Coalton and Ohlman. "They are bringing fiber to the home or business for high speed and reliable internet service to these communities," she said. They are to decide on their next community expansion and Belusko hoped it would be Litchfield.
Tonya Flannery, Litchfield City Administrator and Economic Development Director, welcomed those in attendance and Sarah Waggoner, Litchfield Tourism Coordinator closed the event with details of Litchfield Tourism events and opportunities.
The breakfast was catered by Maverick Steaks and Spirits.