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Report: Job creation a top concern 

 
Lt. Gov. releases rural survey results

Freeport Journal-Standard
July 27, 2012
By Dave Manley

Freeport, Ill. — People in Freeport and surrounding communities are most concerned with job creation and rising health care costs according to a report released by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon on Thursday.

The findings were gathered during Simon’s spring Rural Listening tour, which stopped in Freeport on April 30.

The report from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) surveyed citizens in Freeport, Gibson City, Matton, Peoria, Carbondale and Quincy. In Freeport, 80 people took part in the event.

According to the report, a majority of the 362 participants expect their quality of life to improve in the next five years and cited job creation, education funding and access to affordable health care as the top issues facing their communities.

“The purpose of it is to work to find solutions to rural issues,” said Karen Poncin of the IIRA in April.

As part of the tour, citizens were asked to rank top concerns in the areas of health care, education, infrastructure, business climate, workforce training and quality of life before giving more detailed input during small roundtable discussions.

Of the six areas surveyed, those in Freeport were the most pessimistic. In Freeport, 80 percent of those surveyed said their quality of life the last five years had gotten “slightly” or “much worse.” In total, 57 percent answered “slightly” or “much worse.”

Residents did believe that things were turning around, saying they expect their quality of life the be better over the next five years (52 percent overall, 43 percent in Freeport).

Rising health care costs were a top issue for participants as 32 percent of attendees (35 percent in Freeport) said affordable health care was the most important health issue, while another 28 percent cited access and availability of health insurance (20 percent in Freeport).

Participants also discussed the critical role technology, particularly access to high-speed internet, will play in offering rural areas expanded access to specialists, preventive care and education services and helping control costs through improvements such as electronic medical records.

When talking about infrastructure, 21 percent noted a need for better high speed internet, and 28 percent cited the “adequacy of roads and bridges” as a top concern. In Freeport, the lack of rail transportation was also near the top of the list.

When surveyed about area employment, Freeport voters said that their biggest concern was the availability of jobs, losing skilled workers to others areas, and young residents leaving the area.

The Rural Affairs Council will use the feedback along with data from the IIRA’s Rural Life Poll, which formed the foundation of the questions asked at the listening posts, to begin work on a strategic plan. The Rural Affairs Council is comprised of citizen members and representatives from various state agencies, institutions and organizations that impact rural Illinois.

For more information on the council or to read the report visit www.ltgov.illinois.gov.