By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald
---- — FULTON, Ill. — Fulton residents and area officials came out on Wednesday to meet with Illinois State Rep. Mike Smiddy during a legislative luncheon.
The group met at the Del Curley Conference Center at Agri-King to discuss issues residents had not only at the regional level but also the state level.
Some of the issues brought to the table Wednesday included education reform, economic growth, job retention, transportation needs for U.S. 30 and the future of the Thomson, Ill., prison.
The first-time legislator addressed the group in an informal setting and assured them that he is working for them and the betterment of the rural towns of the region.
“My job is making sure economic growth, job retention and job opportunities stay in this area,” Smiddy said.
One particular issue visitors asked about is Smiddy’s stance on expanding U.S. 30 through Fulton to a four-lane highway and how he plans to drive that proposal forward.
Smiddy, who is part of the Transportation Committee, said that he has been working with Illinois Department of Transportation Director of Finance and Administration Matt Hughes to push the project further along.
“I’ve been working very closely with Matt Hughes to get that project from the bottom of the list to the top,” Smiddy said.
Another hot topic of the luncheon wass the future of the Thomson prison and how Smiddy is helping to move that along.
According to Smiddy, the state of Illinois has not kept the promises it made to the village of Thomson in regard to funding water and sewer for the federal prison.
“I was very upset when Thomson came to me and said that Illinois hadn’t paid,” Smiddy said.
He added that after several meetings, he was able to get this year’s payment made and said the village already has received that payment.
He said to advance with the project, he is going to continue the work he’s done to push the state to keep the promises it has made.
“We need to live up to those promises,” Smiddy said. “I’ll make sure that we do.”
Other issues visitors brought up Wednesday included what the future holds for small-town business in Fulton.
“The perfect storm of Baby Boomers are soon retiring and that could be detrimental to a little community like ours,” Fulton resident Lisa McCarthy said. “How can we encourage young entrepreneurs to want to take over those businesses?”
Smiddy said he and other legislators are working to develop programs through community colleges and high schools, that give students opportunities for internships in the work field.
He also said his work with job creation in the district will play an integral role in keeping young graduates in the area because of good-paying jobs.
“We need a 5-, 10-, 15-year plan in place to sustain this area,” Smiddy said. “That’s what we are working on.”
Smiddy felt positive about his visit to Fulton, thanked the group for its continued support and said if residents in his district ever need anything from him, his office is always open.
“Anything you need from us, we are always there to help you,” Smiddy said.
To show his support for the community and his dedication to helping his district thrive, Smiddy surprised the Fulton Chamber of Commerce with a $125 sponsorship for the Fall Festival Celebration on Oct. 5 in downtown Fulton.