OREGON – Cooperation kept a state agency from leaving town.
Mayor Ken Williams received an anonymous call a few months ago informing him that the Illinois Department of Human Services was planning to close its downtown office and move it to Rock Falls.
“That would have meant that the office that serves Lee and Ogle counties wouldn’t have been in either one,” Williams said.
After doing some checking, Williams learned that the agency manager in Oregon had retired, and the manager in Rock Falls had taken over.
“My feeling was that they were planning to consolidate,” he said.
According to the DHS website, the agency provides “streamlined access to integrated services” to residents “who are striving to move from welfare to work and economic independence, and others who face multiple challenges to self-sufficiency.”
Concerned about locals’ loss of convenient access to those services, as well as the loss of jobs, Williams contacted Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker and state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon.
Demmer set up a conference call between the three of them and state DHS officials.
“Together Ken, Kim, and I helped make the case that DHS should remain in Oregon,” Demmer said. “It’s important not just for the 17 employees who will keep their jobs in Oregon, but also for the hundreds of people who go to the office for services and help. Thankfully, our arguments worked.”
During the conversation, Williams said they learned that DHS needed more space than the downtown location at 106 N. Second St. provided. It advertised that need, but only on the state website, and no one responded.
Williams and Gouker invited the officials to come to Oregon to take a look at what the community has to offer. They also went into action to personally find suitable locations.
They found just the right spot at 1001 W. Pines Road, in the former Dawson Subscriptions building.
Al Millhouse, of Mount Morris, bought the 45,000-square-foot building in September and was willing to rent DHS as much space as needed, and to remodel it to suit its needs.
“Al has experience renting space to state agencies, and he knew want they wanted,” Williams said. “I toured it, and I’ve got to say, it’s an absolutely beautiful facility. [DHS officials] like it so well that they are thinking of bringing more offices here.”
DHS now is in 7,300 square feet in the front of the building, said Millhouse, who is developing plans for how the remainder will be used.
Williams and Demmer were satisfied with the outcome.
“The upshot is that we were looking at losing 17 jobs,” Williams said. “Now they’re actually looking to hire some more people. I’m very happy they’re staying in town, and I’m sure the people they serve are, too.”
“It was good to have city, county, and state government working together,” Demmer said.