3,000 jobs lost: Where it all took place

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DAVENPORT- The Quad City area economy now ranks 209th out of 383 metropolitan areas in terms of economic firepower.

The rating from the Policom Corporation out of Florida, doesn't seem bad at first glance, but the area hasn't been rated this low in its economic strength, in the last ten years. One of the big reasons why, is Rock Island County lost 3,000 jobs from 2011 to 2016.

"That certainly had an impact on that data," Kristin Glass, Interim CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce said. "We hear often that the state of Illinois is challenged."

A lot of the job loss in Rock Island County can be attributed to the Rock Island Arsenal. The number of civilian employees on the island dropped by more than 1,700 between 2011 and 2017. John Deere made cuts. At least hundreds of people lost their jobs there over the past six years. Leaders from the Bituminous Company also announced they were moving their 150 jobs from downtown Rock Island to Davenport back in July of 2014.

Policom's President Bill Fruth says the drop in employment and Illinois' struggling economy are primary reasons for the lower ranking.

"I think there are challenges on both sides," Glass said when asked if Illinois is dragging the area down. "There are challenges happening right now in Iowa with the budget."

We asked Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms whether the Illinois Quad Cities was dragging the area down as well.

"There's no doubt it's not keeping up with the same pace Scott County is on the Iowa side," Thoms said. "It's hard to argue that."

Thoms says the Quad City area as a whole is doing a great job considering all that job loss on the Arsenal. He says the area will continue to lag behind for the next couple of years though.

"In Rock Island, the jobs will come back," Thoms said. "We're going to work hard at it, but it will be just five jobs here or twenty jobs there, etcetera. There could be some nice hits, but it's going to be a slow steady growth."

Thoms says the city's focus will be on small business growth instead of pursuing big box stores or large manufacturers.

The numbers in the Iowa Quad Cities look a lot different than they do in Rock Island County. Scott County actually gained more than 4,500 workers during the time Rock Island County lost more than 3,000.

Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher says the Quad City area is almost like a big city, comparing it to New York's five boroughs. Even though our area represents both Iowa and Illinois, Gallagher says leaders from both sides of the river work together on how to make the area better.

"If you use a specific example with Rock Island or Rock Island County, we need to be able to do some things here that help buoy what they're doing there and vice versa," Gallagher said. "Sometimes, it takes a leadership role for some period of time from a different portion of our community or city to help rise us all up, and then maybe it'll be their turn again."

Gallagher says the Quad Cities economy will do better if people think of the region as a whole, not four or five individual cities, and Thoms agrees, saying he doesn't believe the individual cities need to be competing with one another to try to get businesses.

"We don't want to say, 'Oh Bettendorf's had great success with that. Let's do that,'" Thoms said. "There are sometimes where you work with best practices, but at the same time, you don't want to compete for the same type of jobs."

Gallagher says leaders from Illinois and Iowa are not doing that right now, which will hopefully lead to better rankings in the future. Thoms is optimistic, saying companies like John Deere are starting to hire people back that were laid off years ago.

The biggest industry in the Quad Cities is health care. Genesis Health System has actually gained a few employees since 2011. The health group reported having 5,013 employees in July of 2011. They reported having 5,082 employees in July of last year.

Retail is the second biggest industry in the area, followed by manufacturing, restaurant and hotel, administrative, other services, construction, professional, fiance, and wholesale.

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