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McConoughey talks communities, careers with MC students

Barry McNamara
Jim McConoughey, former president and CEO of the Heartland Partnership, told a classroom of soon-to-be Monmouth College graduates that the two “hottest” career paths are healthcare and logistics, or transportation.
A community leadership expert and the author of the book “The Wisdom of Failure: How to Learn the Tough Leadership Lessons Without Paying the Price,” McConoughey was on campus earlier this week to speak to students in lecturer Robin Johnson’s senior-level Citizenship class, “Politics and Government in the Midwest.”
During his tenure with the Heartland Partnership, McConoughey’s successes included the creation of the high-tech consortium Peoria NEXT and the Cancer and Research Center at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria.
McConoughey had just returned to Illinois from speaking with a group of leaders in Cincinnati about how to attract talent. He traced for Johnson’s students the values that have attracted talent for the past 150 years.
It started with “moral terpitude,” he said, as represented by towering church steeples. Then, families were drawn to signs of prosperity, such as 10-story buildings at the start of the 20th century, then smokestacks and skyscrapers in the 1950s and beyond.
In the past 10 or 20 years, however, McConoughey said a “dramatic change has occurred.” A good community’s beacon is not a physical structure but, rather, its “livability and its social fabric.”
“Talent drives the community forward,” he said, advising the seniors, “Eventually, you’ll be the leaders of your community. … In a big city, it’s hard to affect substantial change. A big city is like a big ship with a little rudder. You can make the rudder move, but it’s not going to greatly affect the direction of the ship. In a community under 25,000, it’s like a little ship with a big rudder. Results are seen more easily and quicker.”
Once students figure out where they might want to live based on the new standard of livability and social fabric, McConoughey told them about the two “hottest” careers.
Both healthcare and transportation are non-exportable – they have to be obtained locally. “You can’t export trucking or wellness,” he said.
That healthcare has surpassed manufacturing is evident right in our backyard in Peoria, he reported, where OSF has passed Caterpillar in employment. Whereas the students’ grandparents might have only seen a medical professional five times in their lifespan, modern society relies much more on such face-to-face interactions.
Regarding transportation, he said, “We have the best highways, airports and railroads, especially for freight. There are 16 times more trucks on the road today than there were 20 years ago. The biggest science now is the logistics needed to get things where we want them.”
McConoughey reported that Amazon can fill requests in New York City within one hour through the very strategic placement of distribution centers with trucks loaded with what consumers are most likely to order.
He told the students it is expected they will have between seven and 13 jobs in their careers and they will work, on average, in four different industries. He then dropped some jaws when he added, “And two of those four industries haven’t even been invented yet.”
McConoughey asked the students what they thought the primary vehicle was for establishing their reputation with employers. A résumé was the common answer, but McConoughey said, “No, it’s Facebook. You’ve got to protect yourself and make sure you’re putting a positive face forward on the Internet.”
During a question-and-answer session following his remarks, McConoughey answered a query about unions by saying, “Unions created a consuming middle class. … In countries where unions aren’t present, you see slower growth and a slower development of the middle class.”
Unlike a previous guest of Johnson’s, who said the Midwest didn’t exist as a region, McConoughey said it “absolutely” does. “The culture of our region has stayed with us for generation after generation after generation. It’s a culture of durability and work ethic and tenacity, derived from traveling 1,000 miles inland to inhabit this region and from surviving cold winters.”