Tazewell County still waiting on contracts before funding FFCI, EDC

TAZEWELL COUNTY BOARD — Without a contract in hand with Focus Forward Central Illinois and the economic development council that would hold the groups accountable, Tazewell County still has not committed to funding the organizations that were the result of more than a year’s worth of reorganization efforts.

The Tazewell County Board appropriated $70,780 in its 2014 fiscal year budget to fund the Central Illinois Economic Development Council and $43,325 to fund FFCI, but has not yet approved actually handing over those funds. Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman said the county has not been able to formulate a contract that would define the goals the organizations would need to meet to warrant payment from the county.

A major issue that Zimmerman said is gumming up the works is the fact that he and others on the board do not understand why the two groups need to each have their own board, when it might be cheaper and simpler to have one board to handle the broad goal of regional economic development. Plus, he said, he is not sure how much support he would get from the rest of the County Board to give the groups money after the County Board contributed to the EDC for years without any return — prompting the massive reorganization efforts.

“I don’t know if I have the votes on the board,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t know that most of the board members, like myself, have a good idea what the final product is.

“I think the two boards can be combined. I think we could maybe even relook at that model, even though we’ve just developed it.”

Zimmerman, who is a member of the EDC’s board, said he at least understands what the goals are, and what the purpose is of the EDC and how its progress could be measured. However, FFCI’s role is still murky to him, he said, and he is not convinced it is necessary.

Tazewell County Board member Tim Neuhauser, however, said that FFCI was created as a separate entity from the EDC for a good reason, and now that the two groups have spent the first part of the year organizing themselves and getting the ball rolling, he believes that contracts that include realistic progress metrics can be worked out within the next 30-60 days.

Unlike even six months ago, Neuhauser said that FFCI and the EDC can now demonstrate what they need, why they need it and what they can deliver.

“We need to support this wholeheartedly as a county,” Neuhauser said. “Everybody’s collaborating and working together, and that’s something that we haven’t had before.”

As for the difference between the two organizations, Neuhauser said that the EDC deals specifically with economic development, in the sense that it reaches out to prospective new companies to lure them to the area, and also works with current companies in the region that are looking to expand and may need something to help facilitate those plans.

The FFCI, on the other hand, has a broader scope of focus. It has a workforce development initiative to help people obtain the training needed to fill the area’s manufacturing jobs without attending a four-year university, and it also operates a leadership institute to train people to serve on local government organizations. The FFCI, in other words, helps to create the assets that will make the area more attractive to employers, which the EDC will use to lure those new businesses to town.

Also, the FFCI does all the fundraising for its own initiatives and for the EDC. The problem with the old EDC, Neuhauser said, is that it spent too much time doing fundraising instead of the work for which it was raising funds. The new model allows the EDC to do its work while the larger FFCI handles the money.

Put another way, the EDC is really the largest initiative of FFCI. Neuhauser said that FFCI officials have created a budget of $1.5 million for its first year, and $955,000 of that is appropriated for the EDC.

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