Ron Coultas, Senior Engineer for Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative
Bringing Jobs to Rural Illinois
It takes regional cooperation now to improve rural economic development
The directors of Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative (IREC), Winchester, have supported economic development in the cooperative service territory since the late 1980s. Economic development can take several forms, such as industrial attraction or retention, business development, infrastructure development, tourism, etc. Each entity or area must evaluate its strengths and weaknesses and determine what to pursue in the area of economic development.
IREC supports, or is involved in, several groups within its service area. These groups include economic development, community development corporations and chamber of commerce organizations.
As costs have increased and sources of funds have diminished, many economic development entities have had to adjust budgets and limit the scope of their efforts. Over the past several years the economic development emphasis has become more of a cooperative regional approach since our society has become more mobile. Successful economic development projects in one county or city have been found to positively affect adjacent counties and cities. Therefore, more regional economic development groups have been formed provided that local obstacles can be overcome. The State of Illinois is currently promoting the regional approach to economic development.
Four counties, Greene, Jersey, Macoupin and Montgomery, (three of which have IREC services) have initiated an effort to form a regional economic development group. Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs conducted a MAPPING program (Management and Planning Programs Involving Non-metropolitan Groups) to determine the interests and potential for the success of such a group. The MAPPING methodology was originally developed in order to bring a holistic integrated planning and decision-making process to rural communities. As such, the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs has developed three inter-related programs for rural community and economic development that touch communities, schools and health care.
Each participating county selected four representatives to serve on an interim committee to develop the bylaws, operational format, funding and staffing requirements for the regional group. I was selected to be one of the Greene County representatives on the committee and I’m working on the committee to develop the organizational structure.
Other economic development organizations in the IREC service area include Calhoun County Economic Development, Greene County Economic Development Group, Illinois Valley Rural Water Forum, Pike County Economic Development Corp, Pike County Chamber of Commerce, Pike County Community Development Corporation, Scott County Development Corporation, Western Illinois Corridor Council. In addition, General Manager Bruce Giffin serves on the Tri-County CDC and Jacksonville Regional Development Corporation.
Each organization has its own programs and efforts that they are pursuing that should improve the economy in each county.
Finally, infrastructure is key to economic development. Rural electrification made a huge difference in rural areas during the last 70 years. Today, IREC is supporting other rural infrastructure projects such as rural broadband. The latest project is an effort to install potable water distribution system in rural portions of Scott County. The initial phase in currently under construction. A large majority of the private water wells in the area to be served have various levels and types of contaminants present. Several new homes are already under construction in the area to be served in the Phase I area.
Without cooperation, determination, patience and leadership from many different local organizations rural economic development can be a very difficult and frustrating undertaking. For the future of the young people where you live I urge you to find ways to cooperate with other communities to improve the quality of life in your hometown.
Ron Coultas is the Senior Engineer for Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative, Winchester. He serves on the Regional Economic Development Board for Greene, Jersey, Macoupin and Montgomery counties, and is involved in the start up of the new Scott County Rural Water Cooperative, which broke ground in March.
The opinions and views of guest commentators are their own and may not represent those of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives or the electric co-ops of Illinois.
© 2008 Illinois Country Living Magazine.