If You Build It
Jason Anderson isn’t your typical economic development director. In his role for the City of Rochelle, he’s not only retaining and attracting business to southern Ogle County, but he’s also running a short-line railroad, an airport, an intermodal freight yard and the mechanisms that have attracted an incredible amount of growth in the Hub City.
“In the past 20 years I would say there’s been about $1.5 billion in capital investment in land, buildings, equipment,” he says. “Over 2,000 jobs have been created.”
How does he do it? In part, it’s thanks to a background that includes a Texas oil company, a rapidly expanding food manufacturer, his father’s insurance agency, and a district office for former U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who connected Anderson with a wealth of local, state and federal decisionmakers.
“I came to Rochelle with a Blackberry that had 5,500 contacts,” he says, “so even though I didn’t quite know what my job would entail, what I found was that my manufacturing experience, my salesmanship experience, and my work with federal, state and local government all were perfect training for an economic development director.”
Thanks in part to those connections, Anderson has landed an impressive amount of funding to build the infrastructure that’s feeding Rochelle’s industrial base. Following an “if you build it, they will come” mentality, Anderson has brought in more than $65 million in grant funding to pay for overpasses, water and sewer lines, wells and water towers, roadways and rails. A $10 million investment in the airport sparked an entertainment hub.
Anderson says his work has helped more than 15 new industries arrive and more than a dozen plants to expand. Anticipating what’s to come, he’s also leveraging more than 1,000 acres on the city’s south side, where there’s wide-open space and a growing, city-owned intermodal and transloading yard to support local producers after Union Pacific closed its intermodal yard in 2019.
Anderson makes it look easy, but this work requires vision and patience, like when it took five years to build a $6 million road. “I would walk down that dirt path at lunch and pray, ‘God, I have no idea what I’m doing. How do I find $6 million?’”
Anderson believes anything is possible if you don’t care who gets the credit, but he also believes there’s something truly remarkable about this town of 9,300 people where leaders endorse bold visions and citizens pray for them.
“It’s hard to humanly explain all of the progress that has gone on in Rochelle. I don’t take much credit for it,” says Anderson. “I believe God has done some phenomenal things here …. And I have very much felt and sensed the presence of God in this community.”