Historical perspective lends Ron Hills an advantage as the economic development coordinator in Havana, IL. As a life-long resident of the city of 3,200 sitting along the Illinois River in Mason County, he possesses an intimate knowledge of the community.
After receiving his business degree from Monmouth College, Ron spent the following decades in business with family or for himself. That changed in 2011 when he accepted the offer to serve as the new economic development coordinator for Havana.
“This was the first interview I ever had in my life,” said Ron, musing on his life-long career as an entrepreneur. But Ron’s history in Havana and experience in business could not be ignored by city officials looking for a dedicated leader of economic development.
Right out of the gate, Ron successfully facilitated the transfer of a vacant property to a new occupant when Oil Filter Recycling moved to town to give new life and new jobs to the former site of the Intermet Foundry. He also landed a new project in the business park by working with Hawkins Inc. to open a distribution center for their water treatment products.
In the years since, Ron has steadily built on that early momentum.
More recently, Ron engaged the Greater Peoria EDC who helped Havana secure a $720,000 grant from the EDA to expand infrastructure to a new addition in the Business Park. That work will begin in a matter of months.
Outside of the business park, he stays busy on Main Street putting TIF district funds to work promoting downtown revitalization. The City of Havana pays 75% of structural improvement costs up to $50,000 to downtown property owners. The revitalization project includes business coaching and marketing consulting. He has also partnered with 353 Court, LLC and Farnsworth Group to further develop and execute a business corridor plan.
“I want to bring some more commerce to town,” said Ron. “I am a businessman. I understand what entrepreneurs are looking for. When people are coming to Havana I ask ‘What can I do for you to make this happen?’”
As for workforce development, Ron is working with the high school and Spoon River College to develop initiatives to help local youth prepare for future careers. He is blunt when he talks about the need to proactively engage a new generation of skilled workers and entrepreneurs to ensure the sustainability of Havana.
“If you don’t replace the old with the young, your town is going to die,” he said.
“I’ve been here my whole life. I understand the people in this town, I know our assets, I know how it was — how good it can be. It can be as good in a different way. I want to get the younger folks to realize this is a great community to come back to and raise a family.”
In the end, Ron knows the simple fact giving him an edge at his job.
“I absolutely love this town. This is home.”
We look forward to continuing to work with Ron and our other partners in Havana to make Greater Peoria a region of resilient and sustainable communities.