Mother Nature’s cruel reminder this week that winter is upon us emphasized that the New Year is here. I don’t mind getting into 2018, but I would appreciate some of those 40-degree days we experienced earlier this month.

2017 brought with it a lot of new faces and plenty of items for us to discuss in the Gateway area. Here’s my top three items to keep an eye for 2018.

New Vision

This past year was a major year for new leadership. New city leaders joined Clinton, Camanche and Fulton, Illinois, along with a new administrator at the Clinton School District.

Changes to those positions don’t happen every day, so it’s been enlightening to see how those leaders are shaping the area’s future. Clinton City Administrator Matt Brooke made his imprint right away, as the city finally joined several other communities in the state of Iowa by using single-stream recycling.

The city continues to focus on roads (which received plenty of work in 2017), but a new public campaign has been waged on housing, specifically ridding the community of dilapidated homes. More work is needed, so that’s a major topic that will continue into 2018.

New Clinton Schools Superintendent Gary DeLacy also has made an impact right away. Marketing has always been something the district has participated in, but DeLacy put more emphasis on that in 2017. The first stages have started, and it’s intriguing what will happen in 2018 with that effort.

DeLacy and other district leaders aren’t shy about the open-enrollment problem existing in the district, so the marketing campaign is one way to combat that issue. Making headway in that realm, while also seeing the future with this next topic will likely dominate the 2018 headlines for the Clinton schools.

Clinton Catalyst

Someday, I won’t label the former Ashford University campus or Clinton Catalyst in this yearly attempt to look to the future. For now, though, I’m sure we’ll hear more about this development in 2018.

In the worst kept secret in the history of Clinton, Clinton Catalyst announced this year, after receiving incentives from the city of Clinton, that the plan for the former campus would be to utilize the facility in housing international students. Those students, would in turn, attend the Clinton School District.

According to the agreement with the City Council, the city will award $750,150 total in economic grants distributed for 15 consecutive years to Clinton Catalyst. Starting in 2019, the city will award $60,000 if the campus has 20 full-time employees and at least 20 students on site. By the end of the agreement, the city will pay Clinton Catalyst only if the venture has 90 full-time employees with 315 students.

Obviously, there will be plenty of kinks worked out in 2018, readying for the development. There is a lot to figure out, but it appears that it would be a boon for the community and the district.

Jobs/Population

OK, maybe this is cheating, because this can easily be a main story every year. In 2017, though, this took on a little bit more of an emphasis.

The state and the city of Clinton are having difficulties attracting quality jobs that will keep people in this region. It’s no secret that population has been declining for decades in Clinton County. It’s also no secret that jobs aren’t as plentiful from decades ago.

I did a story in the spring, examining why the unemployment rate was lowering, but the jobs numbers were lacking. And while a new group was formed in 2017 for young professionals, more needs to be done to not only attract young families, but to keep them in Clinton. The former Ashford development should help with some of the population numbers, but the region, as a whole, needs more wins in the job market. Area employers IPSCO and Exelon added jobs. The Thomson, Illinois, prison finally looks ready to be that economic engine it claimed to be in the early 2000s.

But finding a company to locate in one of the several developments around the area, would go even further in reversing the trend of population decline.

2018 offers plenty of promise, and we’ll be here covering all that’s happening in the Gateway area, so keep your eyes open for an exciting New Year.

Scott Levine is the Associate Editor of the Clinton Herald. He can be reached at scottlevine@clintonherald.com or @ScottLevineCH on Twitter.

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