Jen McMillin

Press / Content

WHITE PAPER: Town Square Project

9/19/2018

One of the first things you notice about driving around the 101st is the sense of purpose in the small communities all throughout the district. From the farmer’s market in Monticello on Wednesdays or the book sale in Farmer’s City, the 101st still has the charm of small-town life at its base. But once you spend time in the district, you start to see the cracks along the surface. These cracks aren’t from the people that live in these communities. These cracks and fissures are from decades of being forgotten in Springfield, in Washington.

The truth of the matter is that these small towns are the backbone of our democracy, and they are crumbling.

I came from a small town of 450, and I know that families, friendships, and lives are built in these small towns that are irreplaceable. The social capital that is held in towns like Weldon and Atwood cannot be recreated in big cities, where families don’t look out for their neighbor’s children. We have to fight for our small towns, for the future of Illinois. And to do that - we need a plan.

HOW TO SAVE THE TOWN SQUARE

Due to the position of Illinois and its economy, our town squares in the 101st have been left behind. The Town Square Project focuses on how the General Assembly and the next State Representative for the 101st can partner with communities throughout the district to reinvest in these rural communities. This project takes basic redevelopment principles, common sense, and the experiences of collaborative project management to show how we can save the Town Square.

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT GRANTS

The first step that must be taken is an infusion of funding to kickstart business in the 101st. Through the Rural Business Development Grant program, towns and villages in the 101st can apply for funding for business incubators and community economic development. These funds could be used to pilot a unique local grocery or kick-start a bookstore. By starting more businesses in our towns, we help keep families at home as well as raise tax dollars to continuously improve our district.

EXPANDING BROADBAND INTERNET

In this age of the internet, every family and business should have access to reliable, fast broadband. Without broadband, rural communities like ours struggle to attract businesses, access services, and meaningfully participate in our state and national economy. In the 101st District, there is a large proportion of the population without access to 100 Mbps broadband.

County

Percentage with 100 Mbps

Champaign

92%

DeWitt

71%

Macon

89%

McLean

87%

Piatt

68%

Currently, Illinois only has an average Mbps speed of 40.4. As more services, businesses, and educational opportunities go online, this lack of speed and access puts our district at a distinct disadvantage.

INCREASING RURAL PROSPERITY AND OPPORTUNITY

Everyone in a small town has been told you have to work hard to be successful. But nowadays, you also need a post-secondary education. While college is what most of our students are pushed towards, there is a distinct need in the career and vocational market. Through collaborative partnerships with our local schools, community colleges, and universities, we must show our students what real opportunities are available and how to get the training and education to take advantage. In addition, we must ensure that higher education is affordable for every graduate, no matter if they are going for a medical degree or a welding certificate.

By combining these educational supports with business development grants and broadband access, we create home-grown entrepreneurship, enrich our local economies and provide more good-paying jobs.

EXPANDING ACCESS TO HIGH-QUALITY CHILDCARE AND PRE-K

Something that is not often thought about in the same breath as economic development, but should be, is the need for high-quality childcare and pre-K. Not only is early childhood education the required starting point for today’s youth to be successful, but families must also have access to reliable, affordable services if our communities want to take advantage of the programs mentioned above. In Illinois alone, working parents already earn over $124 billion. Imagine if every community in the 101st district had access to not only Preschool for All, which is in nine sites currently, but daycare centers with highly trained staff. Our rural communities and families deserve access to early childhood education, both for parents’ advancement in their education or career as well as to ensure a strong start for the next generation.

REINVESTING IN OUR INFRASTRUCTURE

If you live in one of these small towns in the 101st District, think back to your last boil order. Chances are it wasn’t that long ago, and that there have been many in the last few years. The reason for all those boil orders? A complete lack of investment in maintenance and repair of our small towns’ infrastructure. While we still have pride in our communities, it feels like we’re fighting a losing war against broken sidewalks, aging sewers, and pothole-filled roads. We need a representative that will fight to prioritize rural infrastructure development and help us highlight the benefits of living in a small town.

CONCLUSION

One of my favorite parts of running for office is seeing the hard work that local governments are doing on behalf of their communities. The problem we have now is that our state government is shirking its responsibilities to our communities. Together, as your next state representative, I look forward to working with every community in the 101st, from Mansfield to Elwin, to ensure our communities survive and thrive. We can do that by implementing the Town Square Project and electing a true partner in this fight as your next state representative.

Jen McMillin