A Publication of WTVP

Local stakeholders are focused on improving the climate for economic development.

The journey to create a better environment for economic development will be long, and it will not be without obstacles, yet most local stakeholders involved remain adamant about proceeding forward toward a stronger, more vibrant local economy.

In the past few months, an outside consultant has been assessing our region—its assets and deficiencies—to help us craft an economic development strategy that ensures the best use of our resources in bringing more jobs to our region.

Now is the time for action! As Mike Phelan completes his chairmanship of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission (TCRPC) and Larry Whitaker begins his on July 1st, we want iBi readers to know that our commitment to improving the regional economy remains strong.

Since we last introduced you to Frank Knott of Maryland-based ViTAL Economy, he has published a report on his findings and presented his recommendations on the steps for improving economic development collaboration. These recommendations were approved unanimously in late May by the TCRPC, the group sponsoring Knott’s work.

In addition, the Illinois River Valley Council of Governments (IRVCOG) is expected to consider approving the findings and recommendations by the time this article is published. A bipartisan group of elected officials at multiple levels of government within Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties, IRVCOG is the group that originally asked TCRPC to investigate best economic development practices throughout the U.S.

So, what did Knott find? We believe the most important findings are these:

  1. Very few of the private, public or not-for-profit leaders in the region are aware of a clear regional economic development strategy with clear, measurable and achievable goals.
  2. There is a broad understanding of the need to collaborate and a stated willingness to collaborate, but insufficient trust to build and sustain the relationships needed for collaboration.
  3. Our region is unusually rich in assets that can be leveraged to improve our economy if they are connected to a regional strategy.
  4. Business leaders in our region have been more engaged and supportive in our economic development programs than in most other areas of the nation.

What does ViTAL Economy recommend moving forward? There are five priority recommendations to improve how our economic development programs are organized.

  1. Reorganize the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois. The EDC is a valuable public/private asset that needs to perform in a more effective and collaborative manner.
  2. Merge the TCRPC, IRVCOG and the Economic Development District. The EDD is a federally-required designation for an organization that does economic development planning for the region. The current EDD includes the Tri-County Area, as well as Mason County. Very few regions in the nation have three separate organizations for these functions.
  3. Integrate the region’s workforce development programs with the region‘s economic development strategy. Workforce development capabilities are now split between two separate organizations. One is connected to the City of Peoria government, while Tazewell County is served by a separate group. Economic development strategies are not currently aligned with workforce strategies and vice versa.
  4. Accentuate The Heartland Partnership’s strengths and simplify its governance. H-P excels at bringing regional leaders together around big ideas and issues and has demonstrated strength in advocacy for the region. It is recommended that H-P governance structure be simplified to improve performance, transparency and accountability. H-P should emphasize its role in rallying leaders around big ideas; managing complex projects and advocacy for economic development issues; and managing investments that grow the regional economy.
  5. Launch a top-down/bottom-up, asset-based regional economic development strategy. It is recommended that TCRPC, on behalf of the region’s public-sector leaders, and The Heartland Partnership, on behalf of the private sector, collaborate with appropriate human service organizations to implement this recommendation.

The unanimous vote by the TCRPC to adopt these recommendations is only the first step toward actual implementation. The next step is to establish work teams to focus on details such as the makeup of the various governing boards and how to mitigate problems during the transition period. These work teams must represent a broad range of interests in the region.

We hope you find it encouraging to know that there has already been significant progress on several of these recommendations. The TCRPC has approved a second contract with Frank Knott and ViTAL Economy to prepare an economic development strategy for the region. This plan will be completed in phases lasting about a year and will involve input from the general public and interested organizations. The Heartland Partnership has been analyzing the recommendations and is committed to doing what is best for the region. The workforce development boards have been working on an approach to better serve the regional workforce and to integrate with our economic development strategies.

In general, there seems to be a sense of urgency about improving our economic development efforts. We believe that our region has a unique opportunity to use the momentum that is beginning to build as we emerge from a serious recession to bring more prosperity to the region and to spread that prosperity to more of our fellow citizens. iBi