I arrived in Morton on a sunny day in June to not only begin a new job, but to launch a new organization, the Morton Economic Development Council (Morton EDC). Morton is a dream for an economic developer. Affluent and upscale, nestled between two growing metro areas, home to dozens of successful, locally owned enterprises, and endowed with a sea of perfect infrastructure leading to vacant, shovel-ready sites lying along two major interstates. What more could an economic developer ask for? While most central Illinois citizens will mention pumpkins when they hear the name Morton, we have a lot more to offer than our famous festival. Morton has everything it needs to be an economic powerhouse for central Illinois.

To that end, the new Morton EDC has made some major strides in the past few months. In July, we announced the decision of Cornerstone Architectural Concepts to locate their new headquarters in Morton. Their 21,000-square-foot building, currently under construction, will be a wonderful addition to the community. Our retail and hospitality sector is also experiencing growth. Two national retailers, Hardees and O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, have announced locations in Morton in the past few months, and a new Holiday Inn Express will open in 2010. We hope to have more announcements to share in the coming months.

Speaking of announcements, the Morton EDC announced the launch of our new website, mortonedc.org, in November. The site is an outstanding achievement, designed by The Iona Group with photography by V Gallery. It offers a plethora of resources for businesses, entrepreneurs, site selectors and local citizens. In the economic development world, comprehensive websites are critical, as most business location searches begin on the web. A website without maps, current data, building and site listings, and incentive information can get you cut from a selection process before you even know you are being considered.

Marketing is a critical component to any economic development plan, and so is data collection. To prepare for aggressive retail recruitment, the Morton EDC, with the support of the EDC for Central Illinois, is joining seven other local communities to complete a study that will provide the psychometric and trade data demanded by any national retailer considering a new location. By the spring of 2009, each participating community should have both their data sets and a list of retailers that match their population’s buying patterns—an ideal package for targeted retail recruitment. One of my volunteers calls the process “an eHarmony for the retail recruitment set.” Not a bad comparison.

The Regional Retail Data Study is just one of the many things I hope we will embark on with our central Illinois partners in 2009. Regionalism is critical when it comes to successful marketing and business attraction efforts. Companies looking for new locations, and the site selectors they use, want regional proposals. They spend little time focused on city, county or even state lines. Laborshed areas, transportation systems, and customer and supplier locations are much more important to their selection process. We are lucky to have local organizations also dedicated to regional economic development efforts, including the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Heartland Partnership, Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, Illinois Central College, Bradley University and the Employers’ Association. These outstanding organizations are already paving the way for strong regional efforts in central Illinois.

It has only been six months since I began my new position in Morton, but I can already sense the excitement swirling throughout the community. Change is in the air, and citizens are eager to get involved. To date, the Morton EDC has 33 active volunteers and 35 companies and organizations invested in our efforts. Since June, we have worked with 11 companies considering Morton for a new location, and 11 existing companies hoping to retain and grow their businesses locally. We have created seven new jobs in our community and retained 20. Most importantly, we have begun to develop a local culture that acknowledges the important role businesses play in our community’s well-being and the impact our community decisions can have on local business growth and success.

Our board members like to say that “Morton is on the Move.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. iBi