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New grant boosts Madison County energy industry

Thanks to a partnership that includes Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center, Madison County’s energy industry will be the subject of a study that will link economic and workforce development with education.

The study is being made possible by a new grant award under the Future of Illinois Workforce program. The Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning will jointly coordinate the Future of Illinois Workforce pilot program. Administering the grant in Madison County will be National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center, Madison County Employment and Training and Madison County Community Development.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, through its National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center, partnered with Madison County Employment and Training, and Madison County Community Development to apply for the award.

“Evolving energy policies can help create new markets but may also force the shutdown of aging plants,” said Courtney Breckenridge, National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center director of communications and client relations. “A comprehensive partnership of providers across the spectrum, from fossil fuels to biofuels and beyond, with education institutions and the workforce/economic development systems, will help employers and job seekers better navigate a changing energy world by balancing regulation with innovation.”

Madison County was the only region that was awarded a grant in the energy sector. The energy sector is a driving force to create and support jobs within traditional and clean energy industries and to attract inter-connected business and development such as logistics, transportation and manufacturing.

“Strategic partnership between economic and workforce development, and education and training institutions is one of Madison County’s key assets, and this grant will allow these organizations to further create a skilled employee pipeline for the energy sector,” Madison County Chairman Alan Dunstan said. “This directly builds on the work of the newly formed Energy Advisory Board – to develop and carry out a strategy that will benefit our residents, protect existing jobs in the energy sector, and assist the businesses in the energy sector.

“The county has been successful in planning and taking advantage of its location and becoming one of the premier logistical and intermodal distribution centers in the country. Now, it is important that the county utilizes that same, strategic approach to the energy sector.”

Additional supporting partners include the Blue Green Alliance, the Madison Co. Energy Advisory Board, and the Building Illinois Bioeconomy Consortium, which is supported by a U.S. Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training grant.
IBHE is the coordinating board working in partnership with other state agencies, colleges and external stakeholders to maximize higher education’s impact on Illinois’ progress. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning is one of the leading non-profits in the country supporting higher education’s ability to serve adult learners and workforce needs, including productive partnerships between higher education and employers.

For the pilot project supported by USA Funds, IBHE and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning are collaborating to strengthen the connection between college completion and successful careers in Illinois through implementation of the recommendations of the IBHE-led Commission on the Future of Illinois Workforce. CAEL and IBHE will work with each of the four communities selected to customize technical assistance in the following areas: industry analysis, educational asset inventory, gap analysis, assessment of postsecondary institutions and collective impact capacity building.

There is no specific dollar value to the grant award, rather it provides technical assistance from CAEL and IBHE to undertake this study, Breckenridge said.

“The collective impact framework will allow the Madison County organizations that have partnered on this grant to work closely together with CAEL and IBHE towards identifying hurdles, making recommendations to overcome those hurdles, and model a healthy workforce ecosystem,” Breckenridge said. “We look forward to working with Madison County to use these recommendations to foster high skill, family sustaining wage occupations for its residents.”

The NCERC at SIUE is a nationally recognized research center dedicated to the development and commercialization of biofuels, specialty chemicals and other renewable compounds.

For more information, contact Courtney Breckenridge, (618) 659-6737 ext. 230,, or visit

— From the Illinois Business Journal

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