A Publication of WTVP

Focus Forward CI aims to rebuild, rebrand and reorganize the EDC for Central Illinois.

Whether you’re an elected official, are in a leadership position, hold a role in community development or simply live in the region… economic development affects you.

A major component of Focus Forward CI has been to rebuild, rebrand and reorganize the existing Economic Development Council for Central Illinois. The mission is to strengthen the economy through pursuing and keeping high-quality jobs, enhancing quality of life, and supporting business, workforce, community and economic development efforts.

Reviewing Best Practices
“All of us are excited about the potential here,” said Jennifer Daly, executive director and CEO of the Morton Chamber of Commerce and Morton Economic Development Council. “After talking to some of the best regional economic development organizations across the country, it’s very exciting to see the possibilities.”

Since January, the EDC Reorganization Committee—chaired by Daly and Rex Linder of Heyl Royster—has been researching best practices throughout the country regarding economic development organizations. The goal was to present a proposal of how the EDC could be restructured to better serve regional economic development, and to that end, they have created a staffing and governance model, bylaws, core mission and values, and proposed budget.

“We have dozens and dozens of folks working on this restructuring for the good of the region to ensure there is proper return on investment,” said Jim Baumgartner, who provides leadership and direction through his position as chairman of the Policy Steering Committee. That committee oversees major decisions relating to the new economic development effort.

In researching 11 economic development organizations throughout the country, the EDC reorganization committee found numerous core competencies that make a regional ED organization successful: business attraction and assistance, workforce development, rural and urban development, marketing and promoting the economic development strategy, and access to data. Additionally, the central Illinois group will have a position focused on “quality of place” that will work directly with communities and organizations.

The reorganization committee also interviewed local economic developers to understand their support needs, conducted a “gap analysis” to identify what is missing from economic development, and reviewed FFCI strategies to determine what elements are important for a newly organized EDC. “We are coming together, sharing our experiences, discussing ideas, and conducting research in a way that has not been done before in this region,” Baumgartner said.

The Reorganized EDC
The EDC will operate on a proposed $1 million annual budget. Starting this year, it is proposed the organization have six full-time positions, which will ramp up to 10 positions in 2015. Following steps outlined by FFCI, the EDC for Central Illinois is committed to the organization’s goals; measuring and reporting results and being accountable for those results; and maintaining a culture of transparency, inclusion and collaboration. The goals include increasing the region’s population, increasing the number of 25- to 44-year-olds, creating thousands of high-wage jobs, increasing the pay rate of existing jobs, and increasing the number of bachelor and graduate degrees. These 2018 goals, if achieved, would add $1.75 billion to the region’s annual payrolls, as well as state and local tax revenue estimated at $33 million to $34 million annually.

“The development of a regional economic development strategy is extremely important and can only be successful if there is a structure in place to implement that strategy,” Daly said. “The primary goal of the regional economic development organization is to carry out that strategy.”

The new EDC will serve as a resource for other economic developers in the region, working in tandem with them on items such as business retention visits. Various groups, from private labor and business to public organizations, have pledged financial assistance to FFCI as an investment in the future.

Speaking of groups, FFCI, through a formal agreement, has partnered with the Community Foundation of Central Illinois for 60 months to create a pass-through fund that allows a neutral organization to serve as a tax-deductible repository for resources dedicated to the effort. “This is planting the seed to benefit the future,” said CEO Mark Roberts. “This is good for us and it’s good for the community. This effort, for the first time, is calling together disparate groups of the community I don’t think have been talking. This really intentional approach that FFCI has taken is calling together labor, business, people, neighborhoods, villages, cities, counties and regions.”

What will the new EDC look like? In its research, the reorganization committee found most economic development organizations were primarily privately driven. However, in central Illinois, public leaders have made it clear they want adequate representation in exchange for their investment, according to Daly. “We had a lot of discussion around the governance of the organization and the public role versus the private-sector roles and how people would be selected for the board. We came to a consensus, and everybody felt pretty comfortable with what we proposed for the governance model,” she said.

Public representation for the reorganized EDC will include three members from Peoria County (representatives each from the county, private sector and city), two from Tazewell County (county and private) and one each from Woodford, Mason and Logan counties. Private representation will include one from each of the following: Policy Steering Committee chairman, agri-business, manufacturing, transportation, distribution and logistics, healthcare, education, professional services, a finance professional and small business representative.

The new strategy and structure of the regional economic development organization will be rolled out in July during the fourth and final FFCI Milestone meeting. The existing EDC board remains in effect until a new EDC board is formed, which is expected to be announced by October. iBi