Economic panel: Jobs are going unfilled

Regional economic development committee holds first meeting
By STEVE TARTER
of the Journal Star
Posted Aug 09, 2012 @ 09:43 PM

PEORIA —Calling the challenge to build economic development in central Illinois a journey, a new steering committee set off on Thursday morning.

Amid the acronyms and organizational charts, there was one overriding priority for members who attended the first meeting of the Central Illinois Regional Economic Development steering committee at One Technology Plaza Thursday: jobs.

State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, had the phrase, “Work force is everything,” circled in her notes.

“I want to hold us to that,” she said, pointing to the need to have area young people fill some of the jobs presently going unfilled in the central Illinois area.

Consultant Frank Knott, spearheading the regional economic development effort, said that 800 jobs were now going unfilled in Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and Mason counties.

“What if we could get 800 employees to fill those jobs? That’s an economic bonanza right in front of us,” he said.

“Solving the area’s work force problem could be one of the first items taken up – not just to study it but to solve it.

“Economic development needs to be about everyone. Ultimately, it ends up in jobs.”

Collaboration is the other buzzword that came up a lot during the meeting.

“A lot of people are talking about collaboration, but not a lot of people are doing it,” Knott said.

Collaboration stood atop a list of 10 best practices for community economic development that Knott presented to the steering committee.

“This is not a battle between counties and towns. This is a global battle,” he said.

But undertaking a global battle still needs to be fun, said Gordon-Booth.

“To make something fun, you have to do what comes naturally to you. For me, that’s ensuring the success of young people.

“This group is real but it’s not just the people in this room that will make the difference,” said Gordon-Booth, adding that it would help legislators to be involved in discussions about economic development.

“We’ll be in a better position to make decisions in Springfield,” she said.

The steering meeting laid out an ambitious agenda with plans to meet monthly and form subcommittees while working with groups and organizations across the region.

The group is now in the strategy phase with implementation and institutional phases to follow, Knott said, noting that each phase is expected to take 12 to 18 months.

Steve Tarter can be reached at 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com.

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