Prairie Advocate News

Jo-Carroll Energy Launches Major Economic Development Initiative

By Tom Kocal

ELIZABETH, ILLINOIS - Jo-Carroll Energy announced the formation of a new not-for-profit entity at a press conference and presentation Friday, January 30 at the Elizabeth Community Center. The Tri-County Economic Development Alliance, Inc. (TCEDA), designed to spur economic development in a three-county area of northwestern Illinois, was formally presented to government officials and business leaders.

Jo-Carroll Energy Launces TECDARuss Simpson (at podium), Jo-Carroll Energy senior vice president of economic development and member services and TCEDA interim executive director, greets regional leaders at the formal announcement of the formation of the Tri-County Economic Development Alliance. Michael Hastings (center), is Jo-Carroll Energy president and CEO and TCEDA interim board chairman, and John Cox (left) is Jo-Carroll Energy vice president of external affairs and general counsel, and TCEDA interim corporate counsel. (PA photo/Tom Kocal)

Jo-arroll Energy has made economic development a strategic priority, according to Michael Hastings, Jo-Carroll Energy president and CEO and TCEDA interim board chairman. "Economic development progress is important for improving the quality of our members' lives and for ensuring the quality of our distribution infrastructure."

Hastings told the audience that when Jo-Carroll Energy acquired the Interstate Power and Light service area in the three counties of JoDaviess, Carroll and Whiteside, it had a great impact on the way they looked at economic development. Alliant Energy, Interstate's parent company, had a strong economic development presence in NW Illinois. "During that acquisition process, we came to realize that there was a need - indeed, an expectation - that Jo-Carroll Energy assist with economic development in the region, just as Alliant Energy had assisted. It was then that we began to structure an economic development department at the co-op."

Russ Simpson, currently Jo-Carroll Energy senior vice president of economic development and member services and TCEDA interim executive director, was JCE Board Chairman at the time. Hastings asked him to resign his chairmanship in order to come join the staff and help with economic development. Simpson had spent several years working with small businesses with the State of Illinois Small Business Development Group. "He brought to the table a real passion for economic development," Hastings said.

Hastings said that John Cox, a part-time staff member at the co-op, has also brought experience with economic development leadership for the region to TCEDA. Cox is Jo-Carroll Energy vice president of external affairs and general counsel, and TCEDA interim corporate counsel.

"Economic development has become a very important part of our strategic planning priorities, for quality of life, as well as the quality of the infrastructure here," Hastings said. "Jo-Carroll's role has been to be a catalyst to form this entity. TCEDA is designed to be independent, not connected to JCE, except for board participation.

"We firmly believe that this public-private partnership concept is the right approach. It brings together the region's best leaders, for quality decision-making, and effectively combines multiple funding sources."

TCEDA bylaws have been written and the entity is being modeled after the very successful Greater Dubuque Development Corporation, with the priorities being business retention, business expansion, workforce development and business attraction, in that order. Jo-Daviess, Carroll and Whiteside County economic development organizations fully support the new initiative.

"This is a major economic development leadership step for the Cooperative, and one that is sorely needed," said Simpson. "Economic development, defined most simply as creating jobs, has faltered badly throughout the service territory during recent years," Simpson said. "Although many people have worked very hard, funding has not been sufficient and effectiveness has suffered. County governments can no longer shoulder the financial load by themselves, nor should they.

"Economic development should be the responsibility of businesses and communities," Simpson continued. "It is questionable, however, that individual counties can forge a successful public/private partnership because of funding and resource issues."

Simpson said the satisfaction and success of current businesses will be very important for impressing potential new businesses. "Parallel with retention and expansion activities, TCEDA will be developing and executing a Workforce Development Strategy that will aid the success of current businesses, and provide incentive for new businesses to locate here. Ultimately, a comprehensive data base will be developed where TCEDA will be able to respond within 24-hours, very professionally and very effectively, to new business inquiries."

TCEDA ultimately will be guided by a board of mayors, county board chairs, legislators, union representatives and CEO's of large local businesses. The board, which can be as large as 50 directors, will include Jo-Carroll Energy representation. The interim TCEDA board includes Hastings, Simpson, and Cox.

Jo-Daviess, Carroll and Whiteside County economic development organizations fully support the new initiative. On December 31, 2008, the board of the successful, 3-year-old Carroll County Economic Development Corporation voted to turn over their assets to the new venture. The Carroll County Board pledged its support, and the JoDaviess CEDS committee (Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy) has given unanimous support to TCEDA. "TCEDA has not yet approached Whiteside County, although Fulton, Albany and Erie have encouraged us to do so," Simpson added.

"I don't know how I could be more enthusiastic about what we're trying to do here," said Cox, a lifelong resident of JoDaviess County, and a former Congressman whose district covered the same area as the TCEDA concept. "After my short service in Washington, I had many opportunities to go somewhere else. There was nowhere I wanted to be other than coming back home to an area that I loved, that people from all over would like to move to, if they had the opportunity and the ability to get a job.

"One of the things that I have been enthusiastic about since those brief periods in service to the area, was how to grow Northwest Illinois in ways that are respectful of what we're about, what we've worked hard to preserve in the past, and yet provide more opportunities to the people who live here, and for the people who want to live here. I was looking for the best way to facilitate my abilities to help more with the issues I've always cared about. Jo-Carroll Energy, the JoDaviess County Board, and TCEDA have provided that opportunity.

"The geography makes sense," Cox noted. "We have successful entities to the north and south in Dubuque and Clinton, Iowa. TCEDA can be the crescent that causes a strong northwest Illinois economic presence."

Several business leaders in attendance pledged their support. Diane Komiskey, executive director of the Jo-Carroll Depot Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA), said that the LRA Board of Directors is scheduled to consider a resolution of support for TCEDA this week, but could not speak on behalf of the board. "However, as a volunteer in economic development for many of the past 15 years, I personally support TCEDA, and I plan to recommend that the LRA Board support TCEDA."

Komiskey recently attended the International Economic Development Council Leadership Summit in Tempe, AZ, on behalf of the LRA. While learning about how to better the LRA's redevelopment efforts in the Savanna Depot Park, she asked for input on TCEDA's proposed objectives, governance, staff and strategy from some of the best minds in the industry. "The comments I heard confirmed my belief that TCEDA is a step in the right direction for northwest Illinois.

"Strength rests in numbers, and Carroll and Jo Daviess counties have fewer than 40,000 inhabitants and limited resources," Komiskey added. "We must work regionally. TCEDA can be the alliance that will add numbers to northwest Illinois' economic development efforts. TCEDA will help the region maintain and improve its natural beauty and have the strength it needs to retain and attract businesses, and improve the median income of residents in the region."

The first task for the entity is to design and implement a four- to five-year fundraising initiative, including business assessments, a business retention and expansion support plan and economic development goals. The current plan is to begin the fundraising initiative during early 2009, leading to the first full TCEDA board meeting by October of 2009.

"TCEDA is an exciting and bold economic development step," Simpson concluded. "A major initiative for which Jo-Carroll Energy and others are willing to provide significant investment and full support. It is a 'best-practices' approach that in partnership with the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation, and the Clinton Regional Development Group, can provide significant job creation potential for JCE members and residents and businesses in JoDaviess, Carroll and Whiteside counties, and throughout Northwest Illinois."

For more information contact Russ Simpson, Jo-Carroll Energy Senior Vice President of Economic Development and Member Services, TCEDA Interim Executive Director, at , or Email at .

Video by Tom Kocal