It's small-town, Middle America. A town where people still know their neighbors and are not afraid to go out at night. But a few years ago, it was close to death. People joked that the last one out should ``turn out the lights.'' That has all changed now thanks to the efforts of Stan Wieber, director of Richland County Development Corp., whose ad campaigns, particularly those in plastics publications, have brought Olney, Ill., back from the brink.
In 1987, when it began its ad campaigns, the town had a 15.2 percent unemployment rate, Wieber said in a recent telephone interview. In this rural town south of Chicago people felt helpless to turn the tide. In 1989, Wieber ran his first ad directed at the plastics industry, asking for companies to move into town.
That ad generated a response from Jabat Inc., with headquarters in Bound Brook, N.J. In July 1990, the company opened an extrusion plant with seven employees in Olney. Today, the company employs 50 workers in Olney manufacturing custom and proprietary extrusions.
Stan Kulkaski, president and owner of Jabat, said the company has a customer base in the Midwest, and Olney needed industry. It turned out to be a perfect match.
``The tremendous cooperation from the city fathers in helping us gave us our preliminary interest,'' said Kulkaski. ``The bank financing was great and Stan Wieber took over and helped us every step of the way.''
Wieber located an available 42,000-square-foot building, found financing for its purchase and renovation, and even found a plant manager, Ken Caraway, for the company.
Since Olney's advertising campaign started eight years ago, the town has had an increase in its labor pool of 2,913 jobs, fairly significant for a town of less than 10,000 people. The area's unemployment rate in 1994 dropped to 6.2 percent, Wieber said.
The town's largest employer, Roadmaster Corp., a maker of bicycles and wagons, does in-house molding of plastic components for its products. Last year the company expanded that operation. The company employs nearly 2,000.
Union USA, a proprietary molder and metal fabricator of bicycle components and accessories, doubled its Olney facility in 1994, adding 45,000 square feet to the plant and injection molding equipment.
Since Wieber ran a plastics industry ad Aug. 15, he has had 11 firms respond. He is working with three of those to finalize plans for locating plants in the town.
Wieber said he turned to the plastics industry because he knows it to be one of the fastest growing industry segments.
``It's also an industry that can easily locate to a rural area and one that does not have a lot of special requirements, but needs a cost-effective location with low operating costs and employees with a strong work ethic,'' he said. ``Olney has all that.''