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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Opportunity Returns program offers a focused economic development strategy for ten regions covering the whole state. Each region is served by a team that assists businesses and community leaders pursue local development strategies.

To encourage entrepreneurship in rural Illinois, the Illinois Entrepreneurship Network (IEN) consolidated the state’s small business services into one network that strengthens the state’s ability to help small businesses succeed. A vital part of the IEN is the Entrepreneurship Center Network, which provides funding for start-up or expanding small businesses with high growth potential. Nineteen Entrepreneurship Centers have opened statewide. During the past three and a half years, Illinois has invested more than $47 million through the IEN and has helped small companies secure almost $429 million in financing. The Network has counseled and trained more than 152,000 clients across the state.

The Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs’ MAPPING (Management and Planning Programs Involving Nonmetropolitan Groups) program is a process that helps communities create a long-range vision for the economic development of their community and a plan of action to achieve it. In 2006, MAPPING programs were conducted in:

New Boston (pop. 632). A small town on the Mississippi River, New Boston is a bedroom community of the Quad Cities.

After experiencing little economic growth during the past several decades, a group of New Boston residents completed the MAPPING program in the summer of 2005 and has spent the past year focused on revitalizing their riverfront. They are now establishing a 501(c)3 community organization: Vision NewBoston.

San Jose(pop. 696). San Jose wanted to increase the number of community events and activities to draw people together after a local school closing threatened the village with population decline. In 2005, the Village Board worked with MAPPING to hold several town hall meetings designed to kick off several projects to develop local tourism through community festivals and events and to provide a range of basic amenities for residents.

West Peoria(pop. 4,762). West Peoria worked with MAPPING to address five areas: (1) senior housing and family activities; (2) developing the business districts to diversify the tax base and build a reputation as a business-friendly community; (3) high quality schools and facilities; (4) crime reduction; and (5) beautification and community pride. The City and Plan Commission hired an IIRA Peace Corps Fellow to assist with its action plan.

DCEO’s Competitive Communities Initiative empowers Illinois residents to find community-based solutions to local issues. Following are two successful strategies that rural communities implemented in the CCI program:

Hamilton’s Merchants Association and the Community Development Coalition began working with CCI in 2003. The Merchants Association has sponsored the annual Hamilton Homecoming and Mystery Dinner Theater events, both of which rely on local talent. The Hamilton Community Development Coalition (HCDC) continued to improve the intersection of Routes 96 and 136. They maintained the local veterans memorial, flag pole, and eagle statue. The HCDC also helps manage popular summer-long disc golf tournaments.

Bethany, Dalton City, and Findlay make up the Okaw Valley CCI group. They organized and managed the 2nd annual Touchstone Energy Hydrofest & Balloonfest at the Wilborn Creek Recreation Area on Lake Shelbyville. Building on 2005 successes the group worked with Eagle Creek Resort to host a Balloonfest on the same September weekend as the Hydrofest boat races. The Hydrofest has proven such a success with racers and fans that the National Boat Racing Association is making the 2007 event a regional championship weekend.

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