Smoother waters for RiverBend region, but economic challenges remain

By Bob Pieper for Chronicle Media

West Star Aviation’s new $5 million hangar at St. Louis Regional Airport is expected to be completed before the end of the year. (Photo courtesy of

Major public and private investments continue slowly improve the economy of Madison-Jersey county area along the Mississippi River, according to the latest State of the RiverBend report, compiled annually by the RiverBend Growth Association (RBGA).

However, economic conditions continue to vary widely across the region, the report suggests.

The 2018 edition of the report was released Oct. 25 during the RBGA’s annual luncheon at Lewis & Clark Community College. The RBGA is the Greater Alton area’s Chamber of Commerce organization.

The new $25 million Alton Regional Multimodal Transportation Center — a 8,000 square-foot depot for higher speed Amtrak trains and Madison County Transit buses — represents the largest capital improvement project, cited in the report.

Promising to spur additional development in the area is the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Corridor 67 project in Jersey County, the report notes. Generally known as Delhi Bypass project, the Ill. Route 67 relocation is considered essential to development of Jerseyville’s planned Mid-American International Gateway Business Park and multi-modal transportation hub.  The highway project has been included in IDOT’s FY2020-24 infrastructure development plan.

Also cited as important infrastructure projects: the $13.8 million widening of a six-mile stretch of Ill. Route 3 in Jersey County from Grafton Hills Drive to State Route 109, and the long-sought $9 million reconstruction of Seiler Road from Humbert Road to Seminary Road, in Madison County near Alton.

With utility relocation nearing completion, a contract for Phase 1 construction from Humbert to Wenzel Road could be let in early 2019, the report projects.

Among major private sector projects cited in the report:

— The $8 million expansion of Alton Memorial Hospital’s Medical Office Building B and groundbreaking for the hospital’s new Family Physicians of Bethalto office building;

— The $15 million realignment of services at OSF Saint Anthony’s Health Center and its Saint Clare’s hospital facility groundbreaking for the hospital’s new $14 million cancer center (expected to open in late 2019), and the hospital’s development of a new $5 million primary and urgent care center in Godfrey;

and West Star Aviation’s new $5 million, 13,000-square foot hangar at St. Louis Regional Airport slated to open next month.

The number of new business starts across the region is down substantially this year. However, those new businesses are generally larger than startups in the area a few years ago.

Year to date in 2018, only five new businesses, with a total value of $12,900,109, have been established across the region; compared with 13 new businesses, with a total value of $24,334,882, in 2017.

The new $25 million Alton Regional Multimodal Transportation Center, a depot for higher speed Amtrak trains and Madison County Transit buses, is beginning its second full year of serving the region. (Photo courtesy of Amtrak Media)

In 2016, six new businesses, with a total value of $7,226,604, began operations in the region. In 2015, there were ten startups with a total value of $9,981,686 and in 2014, there were eight, with a total worth of $6,180,000.

By comparison, in 2015 there were 50, valued at a total of $8,854,667, and in 2014, there were 31 with a total valuation of $6,542,519.

Jobs growth, home values

Unemployment remains on a downtrend in the RiverBend area, the report notes. As of August 2018, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) reports a 6.5 percent unemployment rate in Alton and a 4.4 percent unemployment rate across Madison County — compared with 4.2 percent statewide.

That is down slightly from 2017, when the unemployment rate was 6.6 percent in Alton and 4.8 percent across Madison County — compared with a statewide rate of 4.9 percent.

However, the most recent data represents a considerable improvement from 2010, when the unemployment rate in Alton was 12.4 percent and across Madison County the jobless rate was 10.0 percent.  Statewide, the unemployment rate was 10.4 that year.

More broadly, employment rolls are increasing regionally across Madison, Jersey and Macoupin counties, according to the IDES.

A total of 159,650 workers were employed across the three counties during 2017 – up from 157,742 two years earlier and 153,284 in 2013.

The total number of unemployed persons across the three counties decrease to 7,804 in 2017; down from 9,977 in 2016 and a peak of 14,083 in 2013.

The three-county region’s unemployment rate dropped 4.7 percent in 2017; down from 5.9 in 2016 and 8.5 in 2013.

However, population outflow continues to undermine economic growth in the region overall.

The total number of households in the region decreased to an estimated 31,659 in 2018; down from 32,647 in 2010 and 32,909 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  The census bureau projects the total number of households in the region will further decline to 31,180 in 2023.

Not surprisingly, housing starts are down in 2018, with only 19, year to date (total value: $3,795,189); compared with 56 (with a total value of $9,802,166) last year, and a peak of 81 (with a total value of $17,933,830) in 2016.

The median home sale prices in Jersey County rose to $106,000 in the second quarter of 2018 — up from $102,000 in 2017 but still not back to the $120,000 median sale price seen in 2015.

In Madison County, the median home price dropped to $122,950 in mid-2018. That is down from $127,250 in 2017 and is the lowest median home price in the county since 2014.

In Macoupin County, the median home price dropped to $77,250 this year from $79,700 in 2017.

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