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home : news : state news free July 20, 2017

7/15/2017 10:29:00 AM
Buffet assists Decatur with declining population

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) — The son of billionaire Warren Buffett is helping a rural Illinois city halt its declining population.

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation has contributed $55.1 million to Decatur and its surrounding Macon County over the past two decades with dozens of grants, including those paying for a new lakefront amphitheater and a law enforcement training facility, aiming to help make the area a better place to live.

“The bottom line is, what can you do to make a community more attractive to younger people, and how do you make it attractive so the people that are here stay here?” said Howard Buffett, 62. “A lot of our contributions, if you cut down to the bottom of it, that’s what they do.”

But despite Buffett’s efforts, residents are still leaving. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Decatur’s unemployment has dropped to about 5 percent. The statistics show the labor force is also shrinking.

Decatur and Buffett, however, are continuing to work toward recovering.

“When you’re a blue-collar town and those jobs go, it’s hard to recover,” said resident Rita Bollinger.

Buffett, who takes no salary from his foundation, said he requires accountability for the money donated to the city and wants to see results. 

In 2016, Buffet’s foundation helped Decatur cover nearly $169,000 it owed the state. 

“You take a community like Decatur (which) is in some ways struggling anyway, and then you have the state come along and kind of hit you over the head with a baseball bat,” he said. “Some of those things we can pick up on and try to support the city and the county.”

Buffet said while he plans to eventually return to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, his foundation will stay and continue to assist Decatur. Buffett has lived in Decatur since 1992, when he became a corporate vice president and assistant to the chairman at agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland.

Archer Daniels Midland announced in December 2013 that it would move its headquarters to Chicago, although it kept thousands of jobs in Decatur. The move was a major blow to Decatur, which had been the home of the agricultural processing giant for decades.

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