Promoting prosperity in rural Illinois

Randy Long, Shawn RenneckerAfter the Trump administration made rural prosperity a federal initiative in spring 2017, local economic development groups began popping up around the country.

One of these groups is the Lower Illinois River Valley Rural Prosperity Initiative, and the utility that serves the area, Illinois Electric Cooperative, Winchester, is a key player, with two seats on the group’s nine-member leadership council.

Incorporated early last year, the initiative is primarily focused on nine counties along the last 80 miles of the Illinois River, from west of Springfield to north of St. Louis, where it flows into the Mississippi River.

The group hopes that carefully targeted investments and regional branding will stimulate local entrepreneurship and job growth, while making economically stalled towns and cities vibrant again.

Six “actionable strategies” have been identified: support legislation designed to enhance the culture and economy of rural areas; build a more dynamic agricultural economy; improve rural infrastructure, including water, sewer, power, broadband and transportation; improve rural health care; invigorate town centers; and celebrate the region’s natural resources and develop outdoor recreation.

“I’m excited about the energy and enthusiasm of this group,” said Shawn Rennecker, economic development director for Illinois Electric and mayor of Barry, one of the towns the group is working with. “Prominent local institutions will be central to this effort, serving as capacity builders, conveners and consensus builders, empowering individual entrepreneurs and advancing collective actions.”

General Manager Randy Long is the other Illinois Electric official on the initiative’s leadership council. Long and Rennecker are joined by seven agriculture, university and business leaders.

Reprinted with permission from RE Magazine.