By now, whether you’re an elected official or in the business sector, you’ve probably heard something about a man named Frank Knott and ViTAL Economy. But who is he? What’s the company? And what’s the goal?
Simply put: Tri-County Regional Planning Commission’s (TCRPC) goal is to facilitate the best environment possible for economic development and accompanying job growth moving forward. Our region is rich in assets. We have a thriving medical community, a Fortune 50 company, and several private and public institutions of higher learning, just to name a few. Are we leveraging those assets to the best of our ability? Is everyone fully engaged in the economic development process? And is there a regional strategy that is measurable with clearly defined goals?
The effort to hire Frank Knott was born from a request by the Illinois Valley Council of Governments (IRVCOG)—a bipartisan group of elected officials at multiple levels of government, including township, municipal and county, within Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford. The charge was to investigate best practices throughout the U.S. on how the public sector can most constructively participate in a region’s economic development programs to ensure the best utilization of resources.
That led TCRPC to Frank Knott of Maryland-based ViTAL Economy, who was brought in for a public forum in October attended by more than 60 government leaders, economic development staffers and business people. His presentation was on the benefits of regional cooperation and collaboration, and the need for clear, measureable goals.
Shortly after that presentation, IRVCOG, acknowledging the need for improvement, recommended that TCRPC retain a consultant to assess how the region is doing with regard to collaboration on economic development and to make recommendations on how to improve. This was approved at a $25,000 cost to TCRPC.
Knott founded ViTAL Economy in 1992. His goal, in short, was to create a virtual resource team comprised of successful business, government, education and nonprofit entrepreneurs to provide best-practice expertise to underperforming and remote regional economies.
It’s important to note that this is in character with TCRPC’s mission. The organization was created in 1958 to promote intergovernmental cooperation, regional planning and a future vision. Its board of commissioners includes seven appointees from each of the three counties and one representative from the Illinois Department of Transportation.
The organization provides regional planning services to the Tri-County Region in the form of transportation planning, environmental planning, and community, disaster and regional planning. All of these issues affect our region’s future economy.
The Economic Development Council for Central Illinois (EDC) has been and continues to be involved in the process and discussions with Knott. This is a cooperative effort, and we are working together. TCRPC has also made extensive efforts to include parts of the community that are not typically involved in discussions about economic development, such as the arts community, human service organizations and representatives from minority- and women-owned businesses.
A Deep-Dive Approach
Knott’s two-phase approach has included what he calls a “deep dive” into understanding the region’s economy and its challenges. This has also included multiple interviews with the EDC to gather background on how they handle economic development.
The second phase, completed in late March, included individual and group meetings and surveys with hundreds of folks in the private and public sectors. Most, if not all, of the individuals—elected officials, business people and the like—were receptive to Knott’s interviews. Perhaps you were one of them. In fact, there was so much interest generated that TCRPC approved a third week and round of interviews so that more stakeholders could have their voices heard. Many expressed gratitude for being included in the process.
It is not Tri-County’s intention to rehash the past and any “what ifs” or “could haves.” Rather, it is our goal to look forward to how we can do better at building better economic opportunity for future generations. Additionally, it’s important that you know TCRPC has in no way tried to influence Knott’s findings, so that his results and final recommendations are from an impartial outsider’s point of view.
So, what’s next? Following his interviews, Knott created a report on his findings, and by the time you read this, he will have presented his recommendations on the next steps for improving economic development collaboration. Until we know those recommendations, I can’t make any predictions on what changes might be ahead. We do know from Knott’s preliminary report that the overwhelming majority of the people he surveyed are not aware of any clear economic development strategy with precise measureable goals for our region.
To stay informed, I invite you to our monthly board meetings the last Thursday of each month, beginning at 5:30pm at 211 Fulton Street in downtown Peoria. In the interim, we will do our best to keep you in the loop through a variety of mediums. I can assure you our goal is to put in place the best model possible to grow businesses, increase jobs and make this community desirable for other businesses to locate and prosper here. With everything it offers, from transportation on road, river, rail and plane, to diversity in the workforce, this region is primed for progress. But we have to learn to work more productively together if we are to make better use of these assets. iBi