NIU Center for Governmental Studies helps rural Illinois communities adapt, respond and carry on

Walzer

DE KALB - The Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies (CGS) recently released three policy profiles that will help civic leaders better understand and shape the future of localities in Illinois. These profiles all respond to significant demographic and economic realities that are shaping the present and future of Illinois: rural areas in the state are seeing a decline in the overall number of residents, a variety of communities are seeing a shift towards older populations, and communities are facing a number of fiscal management and economic challenges which also come with opportunities. The policy profiles are available in full at go.niu.edu/policyprofiles.

While current population shifts are concerning for community leaders, particularly in relation to worker shortages and tax revenue, CGS researchers also see many ways for communities to respond creatively to adapt and succeed in the face of these challenges.

The first policy profile, a case study of Dixon, explores the major challenges facing rural communities in the 21st century, especially the loss of manufacturing jobs and the aging of the rural population. Dixon serves as a model for medium-sized rural communities because this active regional hub, home to about 15,000 residents, has employed a successful planning and development model focused on enhancing quality of life to retain and attract residents, especially young families and retirees.

According to the profile’s authors, Norman Walzer and Danny Langloss, the experience of Dixon “offers other rural Illinois communities both a reason to be positive about their future and useful insights into a process of change to make that future possible.” In particular, Dixon has quickly shifted its focus from job creation to quality-of-life enhancements, which are attractive to workers increasingly willing to work at home, telecommute or commute longer distances.

The second policy profile focuses on helping local governments understand the growth in their senior populations. The profile’s authors, Norman Walzer, Mim Evans and Andy Blanke, write that, “By 2029, residents 65 years and older could represent 25 percent or more of the population in as many as 23 rural Illinois counties — a substantial increase from only five counties in 2019.”

Evans

Blanke

While an aging population can create challenges, the profile’s authors nonetheless see potential for rural areas to “accommodate growth in elderly populations and provide opportunities for them to help stimulate local economies.”

The profile notes that the same elements that make a community most attractive to older residents are also appealing to all age groups: “Safe neighborhoods, walkable environments, access to recreation and entertainment, affordable housing, and educational opportunities are desired by many residents, regardless of age.”

The third policy profile focuses on the changing fiscal landscape. It offers strategies municipalities can consider to effectively fund local services in the face of shifting demographics and thus a changing tax base. By examining property tax structures in Illinois and other states, the profile’s authors offer some creative approaches communities might use to fund local services while relieving pressure on local property taxes.

The NIU Center for Governmental Studies serves local governments in an advisory role and is available to help municipalities and counties respond, recover and even prosper during challenging times.

“Our teams at CGS have been objective and knowledgeable partners with communities and state agencies across Illinois. We collaborate with them to analyze the past and present, and build on their strengths and capabilities to continue to serve and succeed,” says CGS interim director Greg Kuhn.

These three policy profiles are an outgrowth of the center’s 50th year anniversary celebration conference, which occurred this past fall. They are available at go.niu.edu/policyprofiles.

Learn more at cgs.niu.edu.

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