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‘It’s the best gig of my life’

Where there’s a Will, there’s a way for people to tap into a community’s economic potential; just ask a northern Illinois CEO who heard opportunity knock and pushed the door wide open

John Greuling said he remembers when he realized Will County’s economic potential nearly 20 years ago.

He was contemplating taking a job heading the Will County Center for Economic Development (CED), a nonprofit corporation which provides services to private and public entities to facilitate economic growth.

Greuling had spent the first part of his career working his way up from leading economic development projects in downstate Illinois to bigger jobs in North Carolina and Colorado. While he grew up in the Chicago area, the biggest thing that stuck out in his mind about the Joliet area was the old prison.

“I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” Greuling recalled. “Joliet? Why would I move to Joliet? I live in Denver.”

But while visiting his parents for Thanksgiving in 2000, Greuling decided to take a drive throughout the county and what he saw changed his mind. He remembers seeing “a sea of industrial buildings and housing” and realized there was real opportunity.

He got the job and his hunch turned out to be right.

Since then, Will County has experienced two decades of economic growth with an increasing population of nearly 700,000 and an unemployment rate as low as its been since 1998.

As the president and chief executive officer of the Will County CED, Greuling has spent his days helping businesses that might want to move or expand locally. This year, he also accepted an invitation to join Shaw Media Illinois Community Advisory Board, a group of leaders from throughout northern Illinois helping the company plan its mission to serve its communities.

Greuling and his small staff also spend a lot of time educating, whether its business leaders about what Will County has to offer or public officials about the issues and trends within the business world.

Greuling added that the complexity and diversity of Will County’s economy has also forced him and the CED to be able to meet all sorts of demands. It’s a challenge to be able to accommodate the needs of a city such as Joliet, a suburb like Bolingbrook and a rural community like Manhattan, all in the same county.

“We have to be in a position to pivot pretty quickly, depending on the community, the project and what the issue is,” he said.

While he operates between public and private entities, Greuling said he feels that the leadership in Will County is what really has made the area’s economic success possible.

Just this year, the efforts of the CED and local governments and organizations to rebuild a key stretch of Interstate 80 in Will County paid off tremendously. The state legislature passed a capital plan that dedicates over $1 billion to build what Greuling hopes will be “the road of the future” right through the heart of the county.

“It’s been the best gig of my life,” he said. “It’s because I like to be in areas that have significant economic opportunity that need somebody or some people just to kind of push things along.”

While Will County’s economy looks as strong as ever with a 3.2% unemployment rate, which Greuling said he was very proud of, he said there is a lot of work left to do.

Greuling said he wonders what decision makers 50 years from now will think about the job the CED does today. He said economic development requires him to take the “long view” with the decisions he makes.

“Economic development is a legacy program,” he said. “What you do today or don’t do today could have really large impacts on the quality of life down the road.”

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