2021 was a banner year for the Quad Cities and Quad Cities Chamber, as completion of the new I-74 bridge and construction of a huge new Amazon fulfillment center in Davenport have led the year’s accomplishments, to bolster the region’s economy.
This year, the Chamber in partnership with many community partners, landed six successful business projects, with a total economic impact exceeding $174 million and addition of 1,825 new jobs. The investment those companies are making will draw new workers and spark new opportunities for families already here, according to a Chamber release this week. “It will financially strengthen our region, feed new investment in infrastructure, amenities and our schools. And the chain reaction begins,” the organization said.
Amazon’s new robotic fulfillment center is the largest economic development project in QC history. When the 640,000-square-foot center opens next year, it will spread across 158 acres at the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center (off Northwest Boulevard and I-80) and employ 1,000 workers. But already, this project has piqued new interest and inquiries, the Chamber said. “We are confident Amazon’s investment in our region will drive additional development, and soon.”
“We are excited to continue our investment in the state of Iowa and look forward to creating 1,000 new, full-time jobs,” said Caitlin Polochak, regional PR manager for Amazon. “The site will help us continue to serve customers with great delivery options. We appreciate the support from state and local leaders who have made Amazon’s growth in Iowa possible.”
The project was announced this past July, with representatives from the City of Davenport, QC Chamber and Greater Davenport Redevelopment Corporation (GDRC), a non-profit organization that owns the available sites in the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center.
“The City of Davenport is excited to welcome Amazon to the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center,” Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said then. “Their investment in our community shows that Davenport is the ideal place for companies to locate and grow businesses. We look forward to this project adding to the vibrancy of our local economy.”
Amazon employees will pick, pack, and ship smaller customer items such as books, toys, electronics and other household items.
“Amazon recently announced pay increases across its fulfillment and transportation networks,” Polochak said. “The open roles we’re hiring for offer an average starting pay of at least $16 per hour, plus sign-on bonuses in most locations of up to $1,000.”
Almost exactly a year ago, the e-commerce giant opened its first Iowa fulfillment center in Bondurant (in central Iowa), in early December 2020, also with 1,000 jobs. Amazon has 10 fulfillment centers in Illinois.
On top of Amazon’s industry-leading minimum starting wage, full-time employees receive comprehensive benefits, including full medical, vision and dental insurance as well as a 401(k) with 50% company match.
Amazon is committed to the long-term development of its employees, according to the company. The company’s employees have access to innovative programs like Career Choice, where Amazon will pay up to 95 percent of tuition for courses related to in-demand fields, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon. Since the program’s launch, more than 25,000 employees across the globe have pursued degrees in a range of fields, including game design and visual communications, nursing, IT programming and radiology.
With a 1,000-person workforce, Amazon will become one of the Quad Cities region’s Top 15 employers, in terms of the number of jobs.
The project began when a site selection firm contacted the Chamber in November 2020, seeking sites in the bi-state region for an unnamed client, said Paul Rumler, President & CEO of the Chamber.
“After one of the region’s potential sites was selected, the Chamber connected the project with the appropriate city, state and other resources,” Rumler said. “It takes many partners to assist a project of this magnitude and this is a perfect example of how great collaboration works.”
Rumler said several factors led Amazon to choose the QC. “They were attracted by the region’s central Midwest location, the easy access to their customers via our interstates, the availability of a large greenfield site ready for immediate construction and access to a laborshed of 743,000 individuals including a pipeline of workers with the skill sets needed for their operation,” he said.
Business projects out-pacing past years
The volume of business projects the Chamber pushed forward is out-pacing previous years. It worked on 87 projects in 2021, 69 of which were focused on business attraction and 18 were focused on business expansion. In addition, the group provided 2,665 individual technical assists to small and large businesses throughout our region, providing them with essential information on growth and financial resources and the advocacy support they needed to plan for the future.
“We served thousands of businesses in the region – both members and non-members – bringing us closer to achieving our goal to serving 25% of the region’s businesses by 2030,” the chamber said. “Supporting the business community is at heart of the Chamber’s work, and it goes hand-in-hand with distinguishing the QC as the place people want to live, work, raise families and the confidence that here, they will thrive. That pulls people into the region and these new workers attract new businesses and economic development.”
This year, the new Talent Attraction & Development division embraced its charge and is actively working with QC employers, educational institutions and organizations to host job fairs and build career pathways. It is foundational work and has already more than doubled enrollment in apprenticeship programs, which has increased from 41 to 84 students.
The chamber collaborated on Home Base Iowa, an incentive program that connects veterans with businesses and is a catalyst for them to move and establish roots here. We provided resources to help businesses tackle workforce challenges and will welcome the first Leadership QC class in January, a new program we designed to shape community-focused leaders who want to step forward and advance our region now and in the future.
Other 2021 milestones
- The chamber is leading placemaking initiatives that are establishing the unique identity of several of our downtowns, an element essential to building our talent pipeline and helping new and established businesses succeed. The Downtown Davenport Partnership (DDP) completed a Downtown Master Plan which sets the vision for a more sustainable, vibrant and inclusive downtown and advocated for a comprehensive flood plan with the City of Davenport.
- The chamber celebrated the Dec. 1 opening of the new Interstate 74 bridge, 20 years after we began advocating at the state and federal level for the Mississippi River crossing. Downtown Bettendorf Organization (DBO) is leveraging the new bridge to draw new businesses downtown and additional development is anticipated, proving you can #BettonDowntown.
- The value in placemaking was recognized by the City of Rock Island, which contracted with the Chamber to provide place management services and reactivate its downtown. Just this week, we secured $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds toward a proposed $7-million project that would modernize and enhance the city’s historic center of commerce and culture.
- This year, the chamber achieved a milestone when it announced a new regional brand in partnership with Visit Quad Cities. “QC, That’s Where!” is a bold brand and marketing campaign that will cut through the clutter and grab the attention of visitors, investors, new talent and residents – all while putting the region firmly on the map. “QC, that’s where every weekend is a celebration, our homegrown businesses thrive, down-to-earth people live and play – and where we call home,” the chamber said.
“Thanks to the strong commitment from our investors and strategic financial management, we are advancing our regional business, driving economic growth and development and attracting talent to work and live here,” the group said. “The support of our investors sustains our work, and it matters. The impact of it was witnessed throughout the region in 2021.”
As we enter 2022, the chamber was cheered by the words from RSM’s Chief Economist, who shared at the recent Economic Forecast, “an economy poised to be the best it has been in a lifetime.” The U.S. economy is in the middle of a transformation – the most significant transformation since the Industrial Revolution, the chamber said.
“Despite living amid a pandemic, experiencing rising inflation and supply chain disruptions, the QC region has continually demonstrated its strength,” they concluded. “There is so much to look forward to in 2022.”