CLINTON - Logan County economic development officials offered words of advice and encouragement Wednesday to a room packed with DeWitt County residents who may choose to follow Logan's integrated approach.
Ron Schilling, chairman of the Lincoln/Logan Economic Development Partnership, and Rob Orr, the group's executive director, were invited to the meeting at the Vespasian Warner Library by the DeWitt County Planning Commission. Commission Chairman Jim Brady told the crowd of about 100 that DeWitt County should consider Logan County's economic development model.
"The idea of this meeting is to discuss moving the county and cities under one umbrella so we have one direction for economic development," said Brady.
Schillings and Orr explained the transition Logan County underwent about three years ago when economic development was taken away from the units of local government and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and handed to a new, nonprofit partnership.
"We decided something had to change. We basically had been treading water for 20 years," said Schilling.
The new group is a partnership involving the Logan County Board, the city of Lincoln and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. Each provides five members and financial support, and Orr is director of the 15-member board.
Orr told the Clinton gathering that successful growth should be viewed from a regional rather than county perspective. Federal funds are available to communities who join with other counties on projects, he said.
Orr suggested that DeWitt and Logan counties could work together on projects that benefit both. The two counties have several important similarities, including the fact that both are largely rural, he noted.
Schilling provided details to the Clinton audience of how Logan County landed a major new employer, Robert's Sysco Foods, and its 200 jobs last year.
"We pretty much accomplished an impossible dream" after six months of hard work of negotiating an incentive package with local governments and preparing a 50-acre site, said Schilling.
He suggested that one project can be a start for long-term growth.
"You need one project and it goes from there. Things aren't always smooth, but we have a lot of inquiries about coming to Lincoln today," said Schilling.
Several audience members were enthusiastic about the potential for an integrated economic development approach in DeWitt County.
"This is what we've needed in DeWitt County for a long time," said Ken Bjelland of the county economic development committee.
Dave Newberg, chairman of the DeWitt County Board marina committee, said the county-owned marina and surrounding property could hold a key to the county's economic future.
Admitting that he is jealous of DeWitt County's proximity to Clinton Lake, Orr suggested that a task force could be named to study the marina and its potential for development, including the possibility of a lakeside conference center.
"You have a lot of things going for you," Orr said of DeWitt County, including a centralized location and available buildings.
Brady told the group the economic development discussion will continue at a second meeting on May 17 in Farmer City.