Familiar names, new ideas part of county economic summit
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
EDWARDSVILLE — Significant names are being lined up to participate in a two-day economic summit aimed at drawing wide attention to Madison County as an investment opportunity.
The MIC Summit, for Model Innovative County, will be held in daylong sessions on Thursday and Friday, April 6 and 7, at the Lewis and Clark N.O. Nelson campus in Edwardsville.
The event is being staged by Madison County Economic Development to lure participants who can invest money locally and create jobs as a result.
Six topics will be broached the first day and five topics the second. Speakers and panel discussions are planned each day.
The first day will tackle job creation, education, leadership training, alternative energy, health-care initiatives, and technology/broadband.
The second day will field infrastructure upgrades, transportation and mass transit, affordable housing, park, recreation and arts, and supportive and outreach services.
Jobs lead the agenda.
“We decided to come out strong,” said Kristen Poshard, who took over as chief deputy director of Madison County Community Development in December. “It all works together with our economic development strategy.”
During the two days, several outside-the-box conversations are expected, from ways to make housing more affordable for logistics workers, to potentially using hospitals to address the ills of homelessness.
Poshard promises an assemblage of presentations that will focus on data that accurately reflects the county’s value to developers.
Day 1 kicks off with job creation, and among anticipated participants is Edward Smith, the president and chief executive officer of Ullico, a national retirement fund for laborers. The company invests in major projects that create union jobs.
Also participating will be Marquita Riley, a former member of the board at Southern Illinois University and now an investment specialist.
“She will present the official national data that will show our economy looks good right now and that now is time to develop,” Poshard said.
Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth will also be part of the panel. He has collected data and written legal opinions on worker’s compensation cases, Poshard said. A lot of companies that want to move to an area are wary about work comp rates.
“Judge Ruth will bring real data that shows there have been no huge work comp payouts in Madison County. It is not the great obstacle that should stop any business from coming to Madison County,” Poshard said.
The job strategy session will also look at building technology entrepreneurships.
Universities like SIUC and SIUE “are turning out some of the best computer science graduates in the country,” Poshard said. In computer engineering at SIU Carbondale they have a 100 percent placement rate after college.”
The idea is to get such graduates to locate here.
Sponsors are also meeting with representatives to gauge interest from St. Louis’ booming technology community.
In general, Poshard said, locals need to push the concept of an incubator to retain some graduates to build or contribute to businesses here. She recently visited America’s Central Port District in Granite City, which has set up a small-business development lab and recently ran a fiber connection to the building that houses it.
She has also broached the topic with SIUE officials and is talking with developers about the potential for building something new.
An education panel will talk about apprenticeships, adding vocational studies in high schools that have been underfunded or defunded and building training opportunities.
A leadership training session will feature a man close to Poshard, her father, Glenn Poshard, a former congressman, president of SIU and now president of Morthland College, a private school in West Frankfort.
“A lot of companies asked him to come do (presentations), so he’s going to do it for this group. I think it’s appropriate; he’s been very successful at bringing job creation to Madison County in the past.”
The remainder of Day 1 will look at alternate energy, including Ameren Illinois investments and how to repurpose older buildings; and health-care initiatives including how to support the senior citizens base and how to fight homelessness.
Regarding seniors, keeping them in the market instead of encouraging them to move to sunnier states actually solidifies the tax base. And they are growing in number.
“Participation in senior citizen and retirees’ programming has gone up 36 percent in the past year,” she said, quoting information from local senior services.
One attraction for seniors could be formation of “golf course” or self-contained communities with individual homes and duplexes, cafes, stores and similar nearby resources. Medical and senior support organizations have expressed interest in such a concept.
“We’ve been talking to the people that developed The Villages in Florida. It can’t be that big, but if we can recreate it on a realistic scale in Madison County, it’s very exciting to consider,” she said.
A new approach to homelessness will also be addressed. Hospitals nationally say that most chronic homeless individuals are also chronic emergency room users, which costs hospitals many thousands of dollars in care and drives up costs for other users.
Some hospitals are using “transitional housing dollars” — like funds offered by Madison County Community Development — to accommodate living arrangements for the homeless.
“They are not patients there. They have their own little apartment. And what they’ve found is that by providing this housing, these individuals are able to get their medicine on a regular basis and be looked in on, on a regular basis.” The costs drop dramatically by comparison to ER visits. No local hospital is known to have such a program.
On the second day, Congressman John Shimkus is expected to a top speaker, and many other elected leaders have been invited.
Affordable housing will also be on the second day’s agenda.
Many of the newly employed logistics workers would stay in the area longer if they had dependable ways to get to their jobs and to live. Poshard cites the Emerald Ridge development in the heart of East Alton as an example of the type of quality, affordable housing that can be built, using the concept of state tax credits and public-private support.
The Illinois Development Authority, which backed Emerald Ridge, invited Poshard to speak in Chicago about the MIC Summit.
Questions about the event are directed to MICSummit@co.madison.il.us or James Arnold at (618) 296-4247.