Can a community be crafted to grow the way it needs to? Absolutely. Will it grow without help? Maybe. But perhaps not the way it should.
The goal of economic development is to create and retain jobs while constructing the best possible situation for growth. It is a basic essential service that every community needs to grow, and grow in the right way. Economic development includes policies that stimulate high employment rates, price stability and sustainable growth. The development of needed infrastructure, like roads, water and sewer systems, require planning, policies and programs. Every community needs a thriving business climate to grow successfully as well. Careful, considerate and guided economic development provides communities with assistance in keeping and expanding its existing businesses, attracting new businesses and developing available properties.
Clearly, this is important work to be accomplished in every community, but who carries out these vital tasks? Partnerships do. Economic development requires a plethora of disciplines at a variety of levels, including local, regional, state and federal. In central Illinois, the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois (EDC) forms these partnerships with a regional focus.
Who is the EDC for Central Illinois?
With the cooperation of leaders throughout the Tri-County Area, the EDC was established in response to the high unemployment and economic uncertainty of the early 1980s. Today the EDC is a 501(c)(6) organization funded through the investment of businesses, counties and communities. These investments are leveraged by grants and contracts for services.
The organizational structure of the EDC is regional partnership en masse and in motion. This partnership includes governmental entities at various levels, special authorities—such as the airport and port district, private business leaders, higher education, research institutions and utilities—all of which hold a stake in the future of the region.
The layered structure illustrated (below) provides for maximum business and community input, while refining, enhancing and streamlining programs, resulting in the best possible solutions to today’s economic challenges. The base investor network is comprised of regional leaders, who place a high value on the area’s economic health and growth. They are consistently engaged in the activities of the EDC and support the EDC’s work financially.
The leadership and governing body of the EDC is a diverse partnership of county, city, small community, private business, labor and other stakeholder agencies. The EDC Board of Directors works cooperatively to set policies for the EDC in the best interest of the region’s growth and well-being.
Why is a regional program necessary?
The EDC works to position the region by capitalizing on central Illinois’ assets—utilizing trend analyses, economic climate data and connecting public and private entities throughout the region. This broader scope allows the EDC to focus on the strengths of the region as a whole and promote these strengths to the world.
When the EDC was reorganized in 2006, a series of industry clusters for the central Illinois region were identified. These industries are the core competencies of our region, taking into account natural resources; workforce; educational opportunities; existing, thriving businesses; and the shift of economies from manufacturing to knowledge- based. Strategy groups were then formed for each of these industries, utilizing the assets of volunteers with interest, experience and knowledge in that industry. There are now 11 active EDC Strategy Groups, with nearly 150 professionals volunteering their time and energy for the growth and support of economic development in central Illinois. The groups work throughout the year to prepare presentations, proposals and white papers for review by the EDGE. The EDGE, or Economic Development and Growth Experts, act as strategic advisors and mentors testing, challenging and adding value to the proposals and programs presented by the strategy groups.
For example, the EDC is working with several strategy groups to identify talent gaps for specific industry clusters. The Healthcare strategy group recently presented findings on the need for physicians in many sub-specialty areas. These gaps will widen significantly with anticipated retirements in the next five years. The Specialized Manufacturing strategy group is working with area high schools to identify and provide the needed training for students entering the manufacturing workforce within two years of graduation.
Recruitment to central Illinois is another important focus. The EDC promotes a positive regional image to enhance recruitment of workforce and new businesses. National and regional trade shows, site selector visits and global marketing are just a few of the ways the EDC recruits. Available sites and buildings throughout the region are marketed to a world-wide audience of site selectors, developers and corporate expansion professionals via the EDC website. The EDC also utilizes its powerful media connections to gain positive national recognition for the region, along with ever-improving ratings and rankings.
A diverse economy makes us strong. Since the economic setback of the 1980s, this region has been working diligently to diversify and strengthen itself with the help of a regionally focused EDC and an army of business and community leaders. Today, the nation’s economic woes are not impacting our region with as much severity as other parts of the country. Through it all, the EDC has never lost sight of the main vision: building economic strength and stability for the central Illinois region. iBi