Scharlau: Champaign County 'growing forward'

Scharlau: Champaign County 'growing forward'

CHAMPAIGN — Busey Bank Vice Chairman Ed Scharlau believes Champaign County has more construction going on than any other county in downstate Illinois.

In prepared remarks for the bank's annual economic seminar today in Champaign, Scharlau said 17 major projects under construction in Champaign County have an estimated total value of $115 million. That doesn't include projects in the planning stages or projects at the University of Illinois, such as the renovation of State Farm Center.

Last year, there were 202 housing starts in Champaign, Urbana and Savoy, and Scharlau is projecting 220 starts for those three communities this year.

About 600 people were expected to attend the Busey seminar at the I Hotel and Conference Center this morning.

Scharlau's theme for this year's seminar was "Growing Forward," and he used the occasion to note that Champaign County's population was estimated at 204,897 in 2013, up from 201,081 in 2010.

"In that three-year period, Champaign County grew by 1.9 percent," he said.

Average growth for the state of Illinois was only 0.4 percent, and "most areas in the Midwest are losing population," Scharlau said.

The county's two major employer bases continued to grow in 2013, he added. The payroll for the UI's Urbana-Champaign campus was $892 million, up from $870 million in 2012. Meanwhile, the payroll of seven major health care employers totaled $559 million, up from $529 million in 2012.

Scharlau estimated that the payroll for the Urbana-Champaign campus will swell to $931 million this year, while the payroll of health care employers will grow to $590 million.

The veteran banker also dissected components of the local economy, including retail sales, home sales and agricultural output.

— Retail sales in Champaign County totaled $2.65 billion in 2013, up 2.4 percent from 2012. Automobile and gasoline sales made up nearly 20 percent of retail sales, with sales for that sector growing 5.8 percent in 2013. Restaurant sales, which make up nearly 13 percent of retail sales, grew by the second-largest percentage — 5.2 percent.

— Home sales in Champaign County were up nearly 9 percent in 2013, with 2,599 homes sold — up 214 from the previous year. The median price for homes sold in Champaign County was $135,000, meaning half the homes sold for more than that amount while the other half sold for less.

— The county's agricultural output totaled $416 million in 2013, down from $470 million in 2012. Busey Ag Services anticipates this year's agricultural output will be $442 million, based on current prices of $4.80 per bushel of corn and $14.90 per bushel of soybeans. The calculation assumes average yields this year. The output totals include not only the value of grain produced here, but also the value of livestock, crop insurance and government payments to farmers.

Scharlau said it would take 12,250 train cars to ship all the corn produced in Champaign County last year.

Also at the seminar, Scharlau cited several distinctions Champaign-Urbana has received in recent months. He said the website Techie.com counted Champaign-Urbana as one of the "10 most promising tech hubs to watch in 2014" and that NerdWallet ranked C-U the fifth-best community in the nation in terms of "work-life balance."

Champaign-Urbana has nearly 200 tech companies, with more than half of those in the UI Research Park, Scharlau said. Last year, Yahoo announced plans to expand its office in the research park by 80 employees, bringing its total workforce there to nearly 200.

Scharlau cited several other developments influencing the community's future, including:

— Parkland College's new student services center, which is expected to open this summer.

— Parkland's agreement to take over UI aviation programs.

— The airport task force planning the future of the UI's Willard Airport in Savoy.

As an added feature of the seminar, Phyllis Wise, chancellor of the UI's Urbana-Champaign campus, was scheduled to introduce a video, "Envisioning Our Micro-Urban Future."

Something good is in the works

In his speech this morning at Busey Bank's annual economic seminar, Vice Chairman Ed Scharlau will tell an audience of 600 why it's a good time to live and work in Champaign County. Among the promising statistics attendees will hear: there are 25 employers in the county with at least 300 employees. Roll call:

1. University of Illinois 10,349

2. Carle 5,623

3. Champaign school district 1,814

4. Kraft Foods 1,350

5. Parkland College 950

6. Champaign County government 910

7. Urbana school district 832

8. Plastipak Packaging 810

9. Presence Covenant Medical Center 774

10. Christie Clinic 750

11. Hobbico 700

12. SuperValu and W. Newell 532

13. Busey Bank 524

14. City of Champaign 475

15. Jeld-Wen 414

16. Mahomet-Seymour school district 405

17. (tie) U.S. Postal Service 400

17. (tie) Flex-N-Gate/Guardian West 400

19. Horizon Hobby 396

20. Rantoul Foods 370

21. Wolfram Research 366

22. Champaign Park District 345

23. Amdocs 340

24. Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District 303

25. Easton-Bell Sports 300

Source: Champaign County Economic Development Corp.

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