Tri-County development needs ‘dramatic change’

Study submits five recommendations for the Regional Planning Commission to make area more attractive to business

Posted Jul 09, 2012 @ 08:56 PM

PEORIA —A broad coalition of business and government leaders will spend the next few months working out ways to implement a series of changes to the way economic development gets run in the Tri-County Area.
The group of about 30 people comes primarily from Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties. They will work with a series of five recommendations from a study economic development expert Frank Knott and his company, ViTAL Economy, contracted with the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission to produce over the last several months.

Knott’s group has recommended the launch of a regional economic development strategy; the wholesale reorganization of the Economic Development Council; an integration of economic and work-force development efforts; a simplification of the Heartland Partnership’s governance; and a merging of work done by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, the Illinois River Valley Council of Governments and overall economic development efforts.

“We want to take the expertise, the external observations and interviews that resulted in Frank Knott’s recommendations to really drive a more proactive and coordinated approach toward making the whole region a more attractive place for new businesses and existing businesses,” said Jim Baumgartner, the chairman of the group and the director of corporate public affairs for Caterpillar Inc.

That isn’t to say the situation is dire or mismanaged, he emphasized.

However, “to do this right, we need dramatic change,” he said. “It isn’t like economic development in the area is terrible. When you take a look under the covers of anything you’re bound to find things you can improve to really drive best practices to make things even better than they are today.”

Improvement is needed though, said Tri-County Chairman Larry Whitaker.

“Everybody on both sides of this issue, in both the public and private sector, have recognized on frequent occasions that we’ve got to do something different because what we’re doing is not bringing about the desired results,” he said.

He praised the broad composition of the committee – put together by his predecessor as chairman, Mike Phelan – and emphasized that it “is critically important that this needs to be a fair and judicial process that’s conducted in the public arena.”

Don’t look for the committee to work passively or to simply find a way to repaint the status quo, Baumgartner said.

“This will not just be another bureaucratic group here that meets,” he said. In fact, Baumgartner said that was one of the demands of most of the members sitting on the steering committee.

“They said, ‘Jim, we’re all in, but we’re all in so long as we see change, so long as we see action,’ ” said Baumgartner.

To that end, having someone from Caterpillar chairing the committee is helpful as a symbol, Baumgartner said.

“If Caterpillar was passively interested in this, I think it would be even more difficult for people to be on board,” he said. “All the way up to (Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman), he’s very interested in seeing that we’re up to the right approach. … He asks me for updates every time we talk, which is more than once a week.”

Chris Kaergard can be reached at 686-3135 or Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.