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Q&A with Ellen Krohne, executive director, Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois

IBJ: The Leadership Council celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. As you look back over the past three decades, what do you see as some of the organization’s accomplishments?

Q A-Ellen-Krohne-mugKrohne: The Leadership Council has helped to grow the region. It’s worked diligently to make sure that we have investments in the area’s infrastructure such as Interstate 255 and the new Mississippi River bridge. Certainly it’s done a lot of work with Scott Air Force Base over the years through the last two BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) efforts, but also in non-BRAC periods by building good relationships with the military and strong connections between the community and the base.

IBJ: You just kicked off a three-year investment campaign. What’s that about?

Krohne: The investment campaign is aimed to fund several initiatives for the Leadership Council—one of which is the Scott Air Force Base Task Force. We’ve hired consultants to help us position the base for growth and to guide us through any future BRACC process and we want to make sure that we have the resources we need to make that effort successful. A second focus is a program of work to help grow the region, including multi-modal transportation job growth, coordinating regional economic development efforts and pursuing our public policy agenda. And, a third priority is making sure that we get the American Bottom Levees project completed by 2015. The investment campaign will cover that broad program of work moving forward over the next five years.

IBJ: Who are the consultants you’ve hired to work with the Scott Air Force Base task force?

Krohne: Retired congressman Jerry Costello, Retired Air Force Gen. Duncan McNabb and a government relations firm in Washington, D.C., Smith Dawson & Andrews.

IBJ: What’s the status of a future BRAC process?

Krohne: Congress has taken no action to start a new round of BRAC but everyone expects there will be one. Whether there is a BRAC soon or a few years out, Scott Air Force Base’s budget — as well as the entire Department of Defense budget — is being cut due to the sequestration and overall efforts to reduce spending. So, whether there is a BRAC or not we need to be diligent in helping the base in any way that we can.

IBJ: Do you think it is necessary to get out in front of the process like this?

Krohne: I think it really matters to be proactive instead of reactive. We are building on lessons learned from the last two BRAC rounds in 1995 and 2005. Those efforts were successful so we are taking all of those good lessons learned and hopefully going to be just as successful. I think it puts us in a much better position.

IBJ: Another focus of the campaign is the levee project. What is the mission there?

Krohne: The Leadership Council administers the St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance, which is a community-based, grass-roots organization that anyone can join. Our mission is to be a watchdog; to make sure that the project stays on schedule; to help knock down roadblocks; and to work with our legislators, the Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

IBJ: What public policy initiatives will the Leadership Council will be pursuing?

Krohne: The Leadership Council’s public policy agenda is aimed at things that will help to grow the region. That includes making sure that we get the investment in infrastructure that we need. It also includes making sure that we have the right economic climate in Southwestern Illinois and that we are working with our legislators to make changes that are necessary to help grow the region. One of the most important things we can do as a region is to make sure that we get the fiscal condition of Illinois back in order so that the great state of Illinois can be a positive as we try to market and grow the region.

IBJ: What are you asking for in the investment campaign?

Krohne: We’ve already asked our regional partners and the members of the Leadership Council to get us started and contribute so that, when we made a public announcement, we’d have a good funding base. When we publicly announced the campaign last month, we already had more than $800,000 that had been committed.

IBJ: What’s the goal?

Krohne: We’re looking to generate $3.2 million.

IBJ: So, you’re a fourth of the way there. What’s the next step?

Krohne: We’ll be out soliciting non-members of the Leadership Council, asking businesses and organizations across Southwestern Illinois and the St. Louis region so that we can broaden the ability for people to invest in the growth of Southwestern Illinois. I really appreciate the number of people who have stepped up with large and small donations who are willing to invest in the region. It’s the spirit of Southwestern Illinois that I just love that people pull together and are willing to work hard and invest in the region.

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