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Beyond Sam’s Club: A Labor Day look at Elgin’s workforce

PraveenPepallElg(front) gets off MetrNational Street trastatiThursday after commuting from her job Chicago. 
August 30 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

Praveena Pepalla of Elgin (front) gets off the Metra at National Street train station Thursday after commuting from her job in Chicago. August 30, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 4, 2012 6:08AM

ELGIN — The recent grand opening of the Sam’s Club at Randall and Bowes roads was touted by city leaders for the 190 jobs brought to the area. Half of those are full-time positions, 187 of those are jobs now held by Elgin residents, and a good many of them have a starting pay of $9 per hour.

While those are the most recent hires by a company in the city, a Labor Day visit to the Elgin Development Group’s website provides a broader sketch of the city’s workforce.

The EDG is an arm of the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce being paid $275,000 by the city for its efforts this year in drawing, nurturing and maintaining businesses in the city. Earlier this year, the EDG launched the site in part to provide a profile of the city to businesses considering locating in Elgin. It includes economic and demographic information about Elgin.

Big and diverse

According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, the not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate in Elgin stood at 9.4 percent this July. That compares to 9.8 percent in June and 11.5 percent in July 2011.

According to EDG data, the potential workforce of residents 16 or older in Elgin stood at 81,528 in 2011, with the city having a population of 108,848.

Of that pool, 30,145 men and 25,038 women had jobs, with 2,244 men and 1,869 women counted as unemployed, 8,226 men not part of the workforce, and 13,964 women out of the job market.

Elgin also has a significant minority population, meaning it has a culturally diverse workforce. According to U.S. Census Bureau numbers, about 44 percent of the city’s residents are Hispanic or Latino, 7.4 percent African American, 6.1 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and 3.6 percent are two or more races. About 24 percent of the city is foreign-born and are not U.S. citizens.

From the EDG numbers, 17,161 Elgin residents who are 25 or older have at least a bachelor’s degree, 18,334 have just a high school diploma, and 14,771 did not finish high school.

The median size of an Elgin household in 2011 was 2.96 people, according to the EDG stats, with 8,292 people living alone, 9,658 households with just two people, 5,673 with three people, and 11,503 households having four or more members.

The EDG stats note that the workforce living in Elgin in 2011 included 29,852 white-collar and 16,078 blue-collar employees. The private sector held 42,220 of those jobs. The biggest occupational categories were 13,324 listed as sales and office, and 11,104 tallied in the production, transportation and material moving category.

The Top 5

Of employers based in Elgin, the EDG data lists the Top 5 employers as Elgin School District U46 (3,750), Sherman Health (2,200), J.P. Morgan Chase (1,880), Provena Saint Joseph Hospital (1,330) and the Grand Victoria Casino (1,250).

“That data was gathered by telephone call when we were putting the website together over a year ago, so it is not current today,” EACC President Carol Giekse said. “(We are) working on updating some of the demographics, this list included. We know that some (companies on the expanded top employers list) have added jobs.”

At the same time, according to Illinois Gaming Board reports, the Grand Victoria Casino had 828 employees at the end of 2011, down from 973 at the end of 2010 and 1,641 in 1999.

All the above numbers do seem to put Elgin right in the mix of what Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning data shows. CMAP integrates planning for land use and transportation in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

“Compared to the nation, the region has a strong concentration in professional and business services; finance, insurance and real estate; wholesale trade; and transportation and warehousing,” the group’s website states.

“Professional and business services, manufacturing, health care, and leisure and accommodation are the sectors employing the most people within the region,” the site notes. “The fastest-growing sectors in the region are leisure and accommodation, health care, and education. Each of these sectors employs a fairly large number of people, and their growth is expected to continue.”

As for what Elgin residents are making at their jobs, according to the EDG numbers, the median family income in Elgin last year was $77,994, and the average family income stood at $87,195.

Still, data from the EDG site has 11,180 Elgin residents living at or below the poverty level last year. In Illinois, for 2012 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services puts poverty guidelines at just $23,050 for a family of four.

Getting there

For getting to their jobs, according to EDG data, in 2011, 16,530 workers from Elgin commuted 15-29 minutes to work each day; 17,591 commuted 30-59 minutes; 4,722 commuted 60-89 minutes; and 1,363 commuted 90 or more minutes each day. Those numbers are just one way, not round trips.

Of the 50,189 Elginites driving to work, 43,986 of them rode by themselves. The data claims 1,182 Elgin residents walked to work, 747 took the train to work, 507 took the bus and 100 rode bicycles.

The median number of cars per household stood at 2.3 in 2011, according to EDG numbers, with 1,874 households with no cars, 10,737 with one vehicle, 14,938 with two cars, and 7,531 households having three or more cars.

Most commute

One statistic from CMAP that has stood out to Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain is that only about 20 percent of Elgin residents in the workforce actually work in Elgin, with the rest commuting out of town to their jobs.

“What also struck me is that isn’t that unusual in the Chicago area. In fact, in some cases only 5 percent or so work in the town where they live,” Kaptain said.

What that points toward, Kaptain said, is that Elgin’s employment issues are part of a bigger picture and perhaps better addressed on a regional level.

For the better, he reminded that Elgin is not like how it was in the 1950s when a significant portion of the town relied on the Elgin National Watch Co. either directly for work or for jobs tied to that one employer — a situation Elgin learned was not sustainable.

Kaptain said he meets every few months with city business leaders, as was the case of his predecessor, Ed Schock. What he’s hearing from them is not the gloom from a few years ago but that they are feeling a bit better about the economy.

Finding the bottom

And based on what job-holders tell him, Kaptain said, most don’t feel threatened or scared about being laid off as that might have in the recent past.

“In the last year or so, it seems as if we’ve found the bottom and are working our way out,” Kaptain said.

As for what the city is doing for its workforce, Kaptain said he would like to see more efforts like those already under way encouraging incubator businesses downtown such as the Elgin Technology Center in the Tower Building and Imago Studios on Prairie Street, and even projects to encourage the growing number of Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs.

“I think the best way the government can help local business is not with money but to help them be better business people,” Kaptain said.

As for drawing businesses to town, Kaptain said the economy might still make it hard to bring higher-paying jobs to Elgin.

“One of the best things we have going for us is that we are right off Interstate 90, which makes Elgin appealing to businesses. The EDG is doing a pretty good job for us bringing in firms from overseas,” Kaptain said.

Another lure for Elgin is that the community is diverse but not divided in its hope to make life better for people in the city.

“I think businesses such as Sam’s Club see that, and it’s part of why they locate here,” Kaptain said.

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