meetingsCounties seek economic success through collaboration

By Shelby R. Farrell

Reporter

BOONE COUNTY – The Economic Development District of Northern Illinois is asking Boone County to think more regionally concerning economic development.

The Economic Development District of Northern Illinois, or EDDNI, “is a nonprofit agency whose primary role is to do economic development planning,” according to the agency’s official website. EDDNI helps the region complete a required five-year strategic plan, or Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, that helps the area receive certain grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA).

However, Thomas Bona, the Director of Research and Information, said the one of the main aspects of creating a development strategy is to find projects that the region wants to complete with or without federal money.

“Instead of just having a handout and saying, ‘Hey CEDS [Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy] give us money,’ it’s more, ‘Okay, these projects are really important. How are we gonna do it,’” Bona said.

“One tool is EDA funding. Another tool is public or private grants, or local funding, private investments, public or private partnerships. [We] really make this a guide not to tell the counties what to do but to ask them, ‘What are you doing that we can help you with and that we can each help each other with?’”

The three counties included in the new comprehensive plan are Winnebago, Boone and McHenry counties.

Bona said bringing in McHenry county for the new plan was one of the biggest changes, but the county’s manufacturing background makes it a perfect match for Boone and Winnebago counties.

“Manufacturing overall may have been declining, but there are certain areas where we have a real strength, a real primacy,” he said. “Like a decade ago, you had manufacturers everywhere. Every town had their manufacturing centers, and increasingly you’re seeing manufacturers go into certain leading areas.

“We are really good at doing things with metal. We make things with metal. We also make things that make things with metal, and then now McHenry County and the wider Chicago area, they make the metal. So what can we do to build relationships between our metal working companies and their metal making companies so that they have more business and we have better supply chains?”

Other than adding McHenry County to the strategy, Dana Northcott, the executive director for EDDNI, said the biggest change to the new plan is the emphasis on collaboration and coordination.

The old plan, which began in 2010 and ends in 2015, had a “laundry list” of projects, where Boone and Winnebago Counties simply listed all the projects they wanted to work on, and Bona said it wasn’t as successful as the agency wanted.

However, the new plan lists six main goals with “tangible actions” that the counties can work on together.

Northcott said it’s important that the three counties work together to meet their goals.

“It’s important because there needs to be someone who looks at things from a regional level, and figures out what the biggest impact for all of us is going to be, and how we can accomplish that,” Northcott said.

“We’re talking about competing at a national level because as a region, that’s really what we’re doing. It’s not Belvidere versus Rockford versus Crystal Lake or something like that. It’s our region versus other regions in the country, and so for us to compete on a regional level, we have to think bigger.”

The full 70-page strategic plan is available online at eddni.org/ceds/ or at the Boone County Administration building, at 1212 Logan Ave. in Belvidere.

Bona said those interested in learning about the plan’s main points could look for the Tactical Plan section on the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy document, and anyone with questions or interest in the region’s development could contact him at: (779) 348-7009 or by email at: tbona@eddni.org.

EDDNI will accept public input until Jan. 8, and the last Open House event will be from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Jan. 6 at the Regional Center for Planning and Design, located at 315 N. Main St. in Rockford.

 
 
 
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