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Editorial: Is someone finally lending us an ear? 

Alton Telegraph Editorial Board
August 9, 2012

Finally, someone is listening to the part of Illinois outside of Chicago.

What they’re hearing is that we’ve been beaten, battered and largely ignored — yet remain unapologetic in optimism.

Hundreds of people attended a series of “listening posts” initiated by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon in such places as Quincy, Carbondale, Mattoon and Peoria. Their comments and concerns were put into a report by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs.

What people said about the troubles they are facing was not surprising: The lack of quality jobs, education and health care were at the top.

Thirty-seven percent of those attending were worried the quality of life in their community would get worse without an influx of good-paying jobs. Thirty-five percent said school funding was inadequate and even more feared local schools were not preparing students for life beyond high school, whether they went on to college or entered the workforce.

But the optimism was clear. Well more than half of those taking part expressed the belief things would become better within the next five years.

Perhaps that’s the dividing line in Illinois. It’s not a physical mark, such as Peoria, nor a building, such as the state Capitol, but more a psychological demarcation between those who believe everything should be handed to them versus those willing to work hard to achieve a goal.

For example, rural participants said there needs to be a better cooperation between schools and businesses, there needs to be more of a concentration on the skills workers need to better themselves and more of an emphasis on vocational training. Improving Internet access as well as availability of food and medical assistance were also on the list.

No “here’s what should be done for us.” Instead, it’s a matter of “here’s what we can do together.”

That’s always been the way of Southern and Central Illinois, especially its largely rural areas. We can’t help but think having a lieutenant governor from Downstate gives a needed amplification to our voice.

Now it’s up to the 25-member Rural Affairs Council to initiate a strategic plan that will guide its work.

We’re anxious to see the plan and have the chance to show others rural areas can be great places to live and work.