Urgency stressed at regional economic development meeting

Region’s manufacturing never recovered from 1980s recession, speaker says


of the Journal Star

Posted Oct 04, 2012 @ 11:05 PM

EAST PEORIA —The Peoria area’s economic development journey continued Thursday night before 120 people at the Folepi Building.

The meeting was spearheaded by the Central Illinois Regional Economic Development Steering Committee that held the second of four “milestone” meetings as work proceeds on an economic development plan for Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and Mason counties.

“The past few months have revealed a level of collaboration among community stakeholders the region hasn’t experienced before.

“The job ahead can’t be done by a few consultants or volunteers but the power of people. Since July 26, over 400 people have been involved in work teams,” chairman Jim Baumgartner said, referring to the July kickoff event at the Peoria Civic Center.

While the steering committee has been working on plans to advance economic development, the group once entrusted with that task has been coming apart.

The Heartland Partnership, which includes the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois, has seen staff reductions including the resignation of CEO Jim McConoughey in July and, most recently, EDC president Vickie Clark.

“Research indicated a lack of transparency and an absence of trust in Heartland Partnership and EDC. Significant changes were required,” said Baumgartner, noting that Heartland chairman Mark Spenny and Heartland’s acting CEO Cal MacKay are both on board with roles in the new steering committee.

The first job of the new economic development team is to boost the area’s work force, said Baumgartner, referring to 400 area manufacturing jobs now going unfilled.

“The low-hanging fruit is to get people trained for the right kind of jobs,” he said.

Thursday’s meeting also featured presentations on quality of place, five-year goals and a sense of urgency.

Andre Williams outlined aspects of the area that “make us desirable and unique” while Mike Hinrichsen, head of the goal-setting committee, ran the numbers.

“What our research revealed is that we never recovered from the 1980s recession,” he said, pointing to a decline in the number of area employees involved in manufacturing.

“In 1980, 27 percent of area employees were involved in manufacturing compared to just 11 percent in 2010,” said Hinrichsen, adding that greater educational efforts would be required to fill jobs expected to return to the area as “reshoring” increases.

“The Boston Consulting Group has estimated that over the next 10 years, as many as 5 million manufacturing jobs will return to the United States. We figure that means about 7,800 new jobs for this area,” he said.

But plans need to be in place to see that those jobs don’t go elsewhere, said Diana Hall, speaking on behalf of the sense of urgency group. “If we can’t fill the (available) jobs today, how are we going to fill the jobs tomorrow?” she asked.

Action teams and working groups will work on refining development plans with another milestone meeting set to provide an update in June, said Baumgartner.

In the meantime, Central Illinois Discovery Week, a time when events will be showcased in each of the four member counties, is planned for Nov. 13-15.

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

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