John Deere is not only the QC’s largest employer – supplying over 9,700 jobs in the region.

As the Moline-based equipment manufacturer (with an estimated 82,000 workers worldwide) marks its 175th anniversary in Moline, and the John Deere Foundation celebrates its 75th anniversary, the company held its first-ever media day Monday at the John Deere Pavilion to explain its sprawling commitment to the community.

“We know that we must be community minded, because we are community made,” said Jen Hartmann, director of public relations and social media. “Our economic success is contingent on the success of our broader community and our ability to create an amazing place to live, work, learn and play.”

“At Deere, we make it a priority to focus on positive change and that often takes the shape of economic impact that both our company and our people have had and continue to have on the Quad Cities,” said Mara Downing, vice president corporate communications and brand management.

Mara Downing

“When a company fully integrates into a community, it brings not only jobs and economic growth, but brings with it a sense of responsibility and commitment,” she said. “That’s who we are and what we’ve done at John Deere for nearly 200 years. We’ve invested deep in our communities and we’re proud of that.”

There are about 6,200 Deere retirees who live in Illinois and Iowa, Downing said, who also contribute in big ways to communities.

The Deere QC manufacturing facilities and Parts Distribution Center in Milan produce over $9 billion in annual economic output, Downing said, estimating the company generates 15% of the QC’s gross domestic product.

There are over Deere 300 suppliers in the region, which creates a ripple effect among small businesses, she said.

John Deere (1804-1886) himself served as mayor of Moline; installed the city’s first street lights, and established the first community bank, Downing said. “The most vulnerable in our communities must have their basic needs met,” she said, noting the company also played vital roles in forming the local chapters of the Red Cross, United Way and the River Bend Food Bank.

The company posted profits of $7.131 billion in the 2022 fiscal year (compared with $5.963 billion in fiscal 2021), on total worldwide sales and revenues of $52.6 billion in 2022.

Inspiring students

Pat Barnes, Deere’s global social responsibility lead, education and equity, also leads John Deere Inspire, which is the Deere Foundation’s global youth education program.

The foundation has awarded over $400 million worldwide since its founding in 1948, and fully one-quarter of that has been given in the last five years, he said Monday.

Pat Barnes

“We believe every child in the community should have access to educational opportunities they need and deserve,” Barnes said. In 2021, Deere made a commitment to provide opportunities to 1 million youth in Deere home communities by 2030.

“Today, we serve over 100,000 youth annually, in over 30 home communities, including the Quad Cities, in eight different countries,” he said. John Deere Inspire provides access to high-quality STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, with hands-on, real-world, team-based activities to prepare students with skills they need for future jobs.

Deere has partnerships with schools and STEM programs nationwide, and hundreds of Deere employees volunteer their time to mentor students, Barnes said.

“The commitment of our employees can be seen in the more than 216,000 total volunteer hours we’ve seen so far this fiscal year, which is a new record,” he said.

Last year, the Foundation’s investment provided QC youth with 1.5 million hours of top-tier STEM education, Barnes said.

The two-year-old John Deere Inspire program works with high-need elementary schools and aims to:

  • Inspire and engage youth
  • Improve education outcomes
  • Increase interest and participation in STEM education and careers
  • Support families

Each partnership is tailored to school needs, and there are currently nine schools in the program. The QC schools are Ridgewood in East Moline, Eagle Ridge in Silvis, the Rock Island Center for Math and Science, and Fillmore in Davenport.

Partnering with East Moline

Barnes has worked with Kristin Humphries, East Moline School District superintendent, for several years.

“We’re planting trees that we may never climb someday,” Humphries said Monday. “Hopefully they will bear fruit, where students will become our future problem-solvers and leaders of our communities.”

In the East Moline school district, students speak 44 languages and 100 percent are eligible for free breakfast and lunch every day.

“We view our diversity as a strategic strength in the East Moline school district,” Humphries said. “John Deere sees the potential in our students just like we do, just like our parents see it.”

“Because of John Deere, we have First LEGO League, we have ST Math, and Project Lead the Way for all of our students in East Moline,” and John Deere Inspires offers invaluable STEM education, the superintendent said.

East Moline school district superintendent Kristin Humphries

“We believe that equalizing access will equalize achievement for all of our students,” Humphries said. “The support and expertise John Deere has provided our school district impacts our children on a daily basis.”

The East Moline district is one of 17 across the U.S. that have been recognized by Project Lead the Way for high levels of student engagement. PTLW motivates, prepares, and supports teachers as they strive to make every child in every grade STEM-successful.

“Regardless of what language a child speaks at home, they too can perform these challenging problems to help grow their math and reasoning skills,” Humphries said. Deere employees help get kids excited about STEM and students take it very seriously, he said.

“The partnership with John Deere is having a tangible impact,” the superintendent said, citing increases in student academic achievement. “Those are the largest increases we’ve seen since the Illinois Science Assessment in 2017.” Deere is planting “the seeds of possibility” in students, Humphries said.

“It invigorates and inspires us to know the employees of John Deere see us; they care about our teachers and care about our students and they actively work to support positive educational outcomes for the children of the East Moline school district,” he said.

Boosting employment and veterans

David Ottavianelli, Deere’s director of workforce and community growth, spoke on raising student awareness about manufacturing job opportunities and showing them a structured path how to get there.

Deere has partnered with local schools to talk with students about careers. Monday’s event showed an augmented reality welding simulator, used to spark interest in students. It shows the fundamentals of how to weld and scores the user on how well they did in various categories.

David Ottavianelli

Youth apprentice programs are offered to gain technical and behavioral competencies. In 2019, the QC started with nine students, and this past May, the QC signed 72 students from eight school districts, to apprenticeships in six occupations with 18 area businesses, Ottavianelli said.

“We knew this required a community-wide effort. It couldn’t be based on Deere alone, and that’s where we engaged a number of different businesses and the Quad Cities Chamber has played a phenomenal role in this effort,” he said.

Deere is working with Black Hawk College on a new program called Ignite, for student and adult learners to get basic manufacturing fundamentals and prepare for apprenticeship programs, Ottavianelli said.

The second key workforce development effort is to attract transitioning military veterans to, or returning to the QC area.

They are using a Defense Department program called SkillBridge, where the service member can do up to a six-month internship at no cost to the employer, to gain necessary job skills while still on active duty.

It helps the service member gain skills to transition into a new career; helps companies like Deere gain great talent, and helps the community grow, Ottavanielli said. “Being a veteran, it makes me so proud to see the impact this program has had on those who’ve served our nation,” he said.

He introduced retired Air Force Master Sgt. German Ortiz, who did SkillBridge over three months and is now a full-time Deere internal auditor.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. German Ortiz

“What this program did for me, was being able to translate everything I did in the military into skills and a job in the private sector,” he said. “I’m very happy to be part of this company, very glad for this opportunity, and also very glad to be part of this community.”

Deere as tourism hub

Neil Dahlstrom, manager of Deere branded properties and heritage, explained how improvements at the 26-year-old Deere Pavilion (1400 River Drive, Moline) continue to draw more visitors post-pandemic. Tourism helps drive the regional economy, and Deere works to promote the area as a destination, he said.

The pavilion will introduce a new semi-permanent exhibit on the history of Deere toys next spring, Dahlstrom said. That is to include everything from a 1912 goat-drawn wagon for kids to the first toy tractor (1929), and a vintage 2007 John Deere Barbie doll, and Deere LEGOs.

A John Deere Barbie doll, produced with Mattel in 2007.

The free 14,000-square-foot pavilion (which touts the history, technology, and products of the company) was closed for 20 months during the pandemic, got a total overhaul and reopened for the Lighting on the Commons in November 2021. The updated pavilion has more interactive exhibits and digital content (including photos and films), Dahlstrom said.

It introduced a free interactive Deere mobile guide with audio tours, photos, video, selfie filters, and virtual reality experiences at the John Deere Pavilion, John Deere Historic Site, John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum, and John Deere World Headquarters, as well as a behind the scenes look at artifacts, documents, photos, and art from the company archives.

The pavilion equipment includes the Model L tractor, the only tractor Deere ever built in Moline, as well as the huge X9 combine built at Harvester Works in East Moline.

The John Deere Pavilion, 1400 River Drive, Moline, will exceed 4.5 million visitors in early 2024.

“Perhaps most importantly, from an operational standpoint, we gave ourselves time for feedback and to listen,” Dahlstrom said of the renovation. Contrary to some public opinion that they took a lot out of the display floor, there are twice as many Deere machines in the pavilion, but there’s fewer walls; it’s laid out differently with more digital technology, he said.

There also is 10 times more information on display than there was in 2019. Early in 2024, the company will welcome its 4,500,000th visitor, Dahlstrom said.

Neil Dahlstrom

“We feel like we’re just beginning, when you’re working at a company that’s 186 years young,” he said. “The pavilion is in many ways a Quad Cities tourism hub. In my mind, growing up here, the Quad Cities is more of a destination than it’s ever been.”

After founding the business in 1837, John Deere moved to Moline 1848, and built his plow factory where the Vibrant Arena now stands. “One hundred and seventy-five years later, I feel like it’s worked out pretty well,” he said. John Deere Seeding is operating in its original location on River Drive since 1877.

In 1881, the first time John Deere Plow Works turned its lights on was the first time electricity was in the QC, 10 years before the White House had electricity, Dahlstrom said. The Deere headquarters was built (off John Deere Road) in 1964.

At the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour, Ill., they will have their first free fall fest (Oct. 14-15) since 2019, featuring a father-son blacksmith comedy duo, antique tractors, crafts, blacksmith demonstrations, and carriage rides. On Nov. 18 will be the annual Lighting on the Commons.

Mary Pat Tubb

Mary Pat Tubb, general manager of John Deere Davenport Works, also spoke Monday about how cutting-edge technology has changed what manufacturing jobs look like at local factories. That includes artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital tools, Bluetooth, and security cameras to protect employee safety.

“There are simple things we were not able to do 10 years ago are happening every day in our John Deere factories,” she said.

For more information, visit the Deere website HERE.