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Morton Times-News - Morton, IL
  • Regional economic development group making strides

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  • Step by step, meeting by meeting, the region’s new economic development engine is picking up steam.
     
    The group’s steering committee, bearing a new name, Focus Forward CI (for central Illinois), approved a prospective budget, named Diana Hall vice chairwoman and announced the launch of a new website, www.focusforwardci.com.
     
    Tuesday’s meeting at the Caterpillar Visitors Center with 25 people in attendance was chaired by Jim Baumgartner, who reviewed some of the group’s recent progress.
     
    “We’ve done all this in 60 days with the help of 700 people,” he said.
     
    Baumgartner announced that teams have now been established for the group in all four counties served.
     
    “Economic development director Mark Rothert heads up the Peoria County team, while Tazewell County is led by Bill Fleming, director of the Pekin Chamber of Commerce. Woodford County is led by Melissa Brown, Eureka city administrator, while Mason County is led by Bill Blessman, the longtime county clerk there,” he said.
     
    Despite being on a business trip in Baltimore, consultant Frank Knott called in to guide the group through a budget running from 2012 through 2018, spelling out expected expenses, such as staffing and capital costs and matching funds for grant applications, as well as proposed fundraising sources.
     
    The proposed 2013 budget is for just over $3 million with annual increases up to $3.6 million by 2016, said Knott, who urged the group to adopt a formal budget as soon as possible.
     
    “We have to get into 2013 budget or we won’t have money to fund phase two when we get to phase two (the second year) in July. We have to start raising money as soon as possible,” he said.
     
    Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich and member of the Focus Forward budget committee said flexibility had to be taken into account in the budgeting process.
     
    “We need to be able to pivot if funds don’t come in,” he said.
     
    To provide total transparency when it comes to money coming in and going out, Baumgartner said the budget committee’s suggestion was to manage economic development funds through the Community Foundation on an interim basis.
     
    “They’re our Switzerland, a neutral body,” he said.
     
    Baumgartner also encouraged steering committee members to attend special events this week that map out specific assets in each county.
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    Karen McDonald, government relations consultant with Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, outlined plans for the new website where group decisions on economic development are shared with the public. She also distributed samples of possible logo designs for Focus Forward.
     
    The steering committee meets again in January.

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