Losing Illinois: Decatur on the decline

Shrinking jobs market drives people out of central Illinois

DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) -- Illinois ranks second to last as a destination state for families on the move, according to a U-Haul migration trend data, just one step above the Land of Lincoln's worst-in-the-nation ratings in 2015 and 2016. 

So many people are exiting the state, it's hard for U-Haul to keep up. 

"For every 10 trucks that are leaving the state of Illinois, we are maybe lucky to get three back," said James Edwards, a U-Haul field manager. "It is a challenge for us to try to get inventory back into Illinois to meet the demand of everyone wanting to move."

Federal census data show Illinois losing population for four years straight. The rate of population growth has slowed each year since 2010. Meanwhile, as jobs and people vanish from Illinois, other Midwest states continue to grow. 

Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin all saw stronger population growth during each of the last two years. 

Central Illinois is among the hardest hit places in the state. Decatur lost over a thousand jobs in the last two years. Since 2010, Sangamon, Christian, Coles, Christian, Logan, DeWitt, Piatt, Moultrie, Vermilion and Macon counties all suffered a net loss in migration, while Champaign County grew at a rate of 3.44%. 

City councilman Bill Faber says a rapidly changing global economy left Decatur behind. 

"In the 50's and 60's, our country was strong on manufacturing. Now it's weak. China is taking precedence over the powerhouse manufacturing that America had."

Faber opposes state or local governments granting generous tax incentives to large corporations. 

"The target store in Decatur was given its property for $10," Faber says. "These are billion dollar corporation and they are asking for subsidies from the state and local government’s. It’s crazy because it’s just giving away tax dollars."

Realtor Bruce Campbell says Decatur's low home prices could help invite new families into town, but blames gridlock in Springfield for the state's population slipping away.

"We have a tax situation in the state of Illinois that is not real friendly to attracting some of those businesses that might normally think in terms of coming here," Campbell says. 

His family runs Lyle Campbell Realtors, a local real estate broker in Decatur since 1923. He often encounters families as they are making plans to leave the state for good. 

"We recently had two parents and a daughter living in separate rental houses moved to Lafayette, Indiana. Sick and tired of the taxes, a variety of things," he said. "That was bothersome to us that parents and children were both leaving at the same time."

"U-Haul is not going to get my business moving out of state," Campbell says. "The state of Illinois is worth saving."

For other business owners, the state's shrinking population presents a different set of challenges. 

"We have enough potential work right now to start another shift in maybe a month or two down the road," Mark Scranton says, "but right now our roadblock is going to be finding people to fill those spots." 

Scranton has owned and operated Stripmasters, Inc. for 25 years. The industrial shop paints large machinery and other manufacturing equipment for companies like Caterpillar, another Decatur mainstay. 

"I had one of my guys who ran the shop for me, he had been with me for over 10 years," Scranton said. "He and his family... they left the middle of last year and went to Florida. He just finally couldn’t take it anymore, and you hear these stories all the time. It’s depressing."

For the state of Illinois, a declining population means a shrinking tax base. Tax figures from the Illinois Department of Revenue show the state has taken in less money each year since 2013, the last year Illinois grew in size. 

According to U-Haul, Texas grew faster than any other state for the second consecutive year, followed by Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee. 


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