"Economic development is not just business development. It is a continuum of projects, programs, and services that, done consistently and correctly, result in economic potential."
These statements, in the words of the Department of Commerce of Community Affairs (DCCA), could not ring more true. Business development, although a fundamental part of economic development, is not the only element of a successful community. It takes vision, cooperation, and motivation. Motivation not just to bring in new industry, but also to retain current industry and make daily business transactions smooth, fruitful, and enjoyable.
One of the most catalytic factors in economic development is the actions of the residents themselves. Consider, for example, the Competitive Community Initiative (CCI) program, a concept developed by DCCA. The CCI program is incorporated into the planning processes of many communities, including Chillicothe and Eureka.
The Chillicothe program assessed seven areas targeted for improvement. Specific, actionable suggestions were made, with special emphasis on a "Top Ten List" of assignments, and suggested parties accountable for their implementation.
In Eureka’s case, the residents decided to participate in the CCI program after they recognized their community was simply too good not to be better. The EDC worked together with Eureka representatives as they formed committees to identify the strengths and weaknesses revolving around six foundations of growth: a skilled and adaptive workforce, pro-competitive business policies, basic and advanced infrastructure, business and tourism, quality of life, and access to capital. The committees collected information, formed assessments, and created time-specific recommendations for the city.
Sally Hanley, EDC development director for Woodford County, worked with the Eureka committees from start to their present implementation efforts. "I commend these communities on conducting their own self-assessment and looking toward the future. It is very important to have a plan in place so that growth and development can occur in an appropriate fashion."
Solid planning is the key to actual implementation. Realizing this, the city of Eureka has hired the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission to take the CCI proposal and incorporate it into a comprehensive plan, which will serve as a vehicle the city can use to implement the CCI goals and initiatives. It will also allow for zoning and land use covenants to be in alignment with the community’s growth strategy.
To keep the community even further involved, the original CCI committees are now looking into the actual implementation of their goals. Both in Chillicothe and in Eureka, follow up on CCI proposals is underway by committee members themselves. These recommendations are not likely to get lost in the paper maze or unreasonably postponed. They are in the hands of the people who have the most interest in going through with the plans—the residents who will actually benefit from their realization.
This type of community action is what a growing business wants to see. Potential developers look for communities that welcome them, value them, and accommodate their needs. An indifferent populace does not sell a developer on a community, despite whatever economic incentive package the community puts together. The residents of a community dictate the atmosphere and environment in which businesses function. With this concept in mind, Eureka became part of a Community Swap program organized by U of I Extension groups in Livingston and Woodford Counties.
A group of volunteer community leaders from Dwight came to Eureka as visitors who might locate in the area. The "visitors" then reported their findings to the community. While they found little to complain about, the important concept is the people of Eureka are doing everything they can to ensure the entire community welcomes visitors, development, and business. Successful developments involve more than development incentives, they involve a supportive population base, residents who take an active presence in community affairs, and do more than just voice opinions.
While it is appropriate to recognize communities such as Eureka and Chillicothe for the responsibility the residents have taken for their own economic development, the true reward will come in the form of an improved business environment, economic growth, and improved quality of life. IBI