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  • Booming in Illinois

    Renowned speaker Jack Schultz, who authored Boomtown USA in 2004, says a number of small Illinois towns have revitalized their economies and made themselves more appealing in recent years.

    The book, which pinpoints what Schultz coins 7 ½ keys to big success in small towns, has enjoyed a high profile status among community leaders looking to develop local economies and positive reputations. In addition to speaking and writing, Schultz is CEO of Agracel, Inc., an Effingham-based development firm. Its aim is to bring manufacturing and high-tech jobs to rural America.

    To date he has helped with 100 projects in 15 states, which has in turn secured 5,000 jobs. While he travels as a speaker, Agracel specializes in helping communities determine what steps to take to turn a prospective business into a successful venture. His company makes money from the development of the property, either in construction or in leasing for industrial purposes.

    In a recent meeting of your cooperative leaders, Schultz recounted the seven ingredients for creating successful communities. They include:

    • Adopt a “can do” attitude
    • Shape your vision
    • Leverage your resources
    • Raise up strong leaders
    • Encourage an Entrepreneurial approach
    • Maintain local control
    • Build your brand
    • Embrace the teeter-totter factor (to understand this concept, you’ll need to read his book.)

    He encouraged your electric leaders to get involved in creating unique communities, playing off of existing strengths such as history, architecture or other tourism elements. Some of the simple items a community can embrace, says Schultz, are good signage for downtown sites, using inexpensive tourism tools, emphasizing art assets and providing an investor network to help entrepreneurs get started.

    Schultz pointed to some recent Illinois developments that demonstrate effective collaboration. For example, while some towns are trying to maintain old drive-in theaters, the city of Galva decided to put up a new one. Likewise, Marion, Ill. has become a destination by establishing a minor league baseball team in town. And of course, Effingham, which is the first to embrace the CEO program, expects to reap rewards as college students return to start new businesses.

    There is a method to the success, says Schultz, but not necessarily high-end science. Any town can embrace the vision.

    “It just takes a handful of people to make a big difference in a small town,” Schultz says. If you’re one of those people, Schultz suggests: “Try to find other like-minded people in the community and make a small change that makes a difference.” Others in the community will recognize the improvement and more positive change is likely to occur.

    Interested in the Schultz approach? Check out Agracel.com, then contact Schultz at jschultz@agracel.com

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