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Group forms to spur regional economy in Western Illinois River Valley

Representatives from six counties draft guiding document

JERSEYVILLE — A group of about 50 individuals from throughout a six-county region in Illinois is working on the region’s economic future.

Representatives from Calhoun, Christian, Greene, Jersey, Macoupin, and Montgomery Counties partnered during the first half of 2020 to complete a planning document referred to as a CEDS (Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy), or the Western Illinois River Valley Economic Development Strategy.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, Illinois Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield,, and state Reps. C.D. Davidsmeyer (R-Jacksonville) and Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, assisted these regional and local leaders throughout the process.

Keeping the project progressing and on task were Shari Albrecht, Jerseyville Economic Development Council executive director, along with the University of Illinois Extension team of Jennifer Russell, Zach Kennedy, and Will Andresen.

“By completing this process and having our plan now in place, we are eligible for federal funding opportunities,” said Albrecht. “Each local government has to be part of a regional economic development initiative to be eligible for federal grant funds. Having this plan, this strategy, in place now lays out ways for us to pursue funding that was not an option before it. This is a ‘big deal’ for our area, as each of the six counties involved are interrelated – we are all part of a bigger picture.”

“The CEDS is a regional economic development tool that serves as a roadmap. The plan gives specific details on projects that are identified within the region and serves as comprehensive plan for grant applications. It can guide decision making on resources to leverage the greatest benefits on projects included in the plan,” Litchfield City Administrator and Economic Development Director Tonya Flannery added.

Defining CEDS, the Western Illinois River Valley ED Strategy:

The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) plan, now regionally the Western Illinois River Valley Economic Development (ED) Strategy, was compiled by University of Illinois Extension Community and Economic Development staff, who also facilitated the process of its development with help from the JEDC Partners in Progress initiative.

Plan development was tasked to members of the CEDS Committee, formed with three representatives from each of the six participating counties. Funding was provided by the six participating counties at $1,900 each, along with an in-kind grant from University of Illinois valued at $45,000.

Further effort toward a final guiding document came from the CEDS Innovation Team. Several representatives from each of the six counties comprised this 30-member team, who came together to provide additional input regarding the region’s economic development strengths and weaknesses and to further define the plan’s components.

The resulting document articulates a detailed demographic profile of the encompassed area. A regional analysis outlines the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats impacting the Western Illinois River Valley region’s economic stability and its potential for growth. And in its final pages, the Western Illinois River Valley ED Strategy rolls out an action plan for sustaining as well as growing the region’s economy.

CEDS Committee Member Dan Fisher, who serves as treasurer for the city of Gillespie and as president of the Grow Gillespie initiative, said, “One of the strongest aspects of the CEDS planning work has been recognition that the real work begins after the plan is completed.”

“The CEDS recognizes that attitudes are as much a part of a community’s infrastructure as its brick and mortar structures,” Fisher added. “The plan is a real team effort and it’s a solid representation of the aspects and aspirations of our diverse region.”

What the completion of CEDS means for the region:

The plan points out that the Western Illinois River Valley region is primed for similar success as St. Louis and the Metro East in terms of regional logistics and intermodal operations. Highlighted among strengths in the plan is the six-county region’s unique blend of access to US Interstates and State highways, Class 1 rail carriers, and its major river access.

Two such projects benefitting from this strength are underway in Jersey and Montgomery Counties, connected by the east-west stretch of Illinois Route 16.

In Jersey County, the City of Jerseyville is in initial stages of developing a rail facility and logistics park. The Mid-American International Gateway industrial park development is a shared vision among community leaders, Kansas City Southern Railroad, and the Atlanta, Ga.-based nationwide development firm Stonemont Financial Group.

Expansion of the KCS rail service within the Jersey and Greene County region is especially advantageous given the new U.S. 67 Corridor, proximity to the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, and established existence of KCS lines in the counties. With the recent addition of an enterprise zone, and with other economic development tools in place, Stonemont continues its commitment to the construction of the rail-served, inland logistics industrial park in Jerseyville.

The economic “ripple effect” of Jerseyville’s MAIG development project is expected to impact the entire region. Anticipated tenants include warehouse facilities, light manufacturing, assembly operations, and other possibilities, and is expected to create 1,000 jobs. Targeted industries for the Jerseyville park location include automotive manufacturers and suppliers, business support services, trade and logistics, plastics manufacturers, agri-business, and related sectors.

The City of Litchfield, in Montgomery County, has a strong history in industrial development with its visible success in developing two industrial parks and nearly 200 acres of space that has provided jobs for thousands over the past 40 years, with a workforce of 700 employees currently. With limited space available in Litchfield’s current parks, development is now underway of the I-55 Commerce Center at the intersection of Interstate 55 and Illinois 16.

The city purchased 130 acres adjacent to the Litchfield interchange for the location of the park, with an additional 120 acres under option. The park is preliminarily designed to include 20-25 lots within the purchased property. The city anticipates the location to house approximately 20 new businesses within the park, with the potential for 600 to 1,000 new jobs during its buildout.

The Litchfield project also includes the extension of its utilities infrastructure across Interstate 55 on the west and will also service bulk water supply to regional water districts. The development further calls for improving Illinois 16 with an additional lane in each direction approaching the industrial park for truck-turn capacity and additional traffic.

“The main benefit of having a completed regional economic development strategy is that it provides a framework upon which to design and implement economic development projects,” said University of Illinois Extension Community and Economic Development Specialist Zach Kennedy. “While economic development can and does occur in piecemeal fashion, the establishment of common regional goals affords the opportunity to work toward regional success in a more organized and systematic fashion.”

“A secondary benefit, which should not be undervalued, is that having a regional strategy that the Economic Development Administration recognizes makes the region eligible to apply for EDA assistance under its Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance programs,” Kennedy added. “This funding could be crucial for local communities to implement their identified projects, and subsequently move the region forward.”

A vision for the future: The lasting effects of a pandemic

Pat Pinkston works with the Carrollton Square redevelopment initiative and serves as a part of the 30-plus member CEDS Innovation Team. Pinkston said, “As we engage in development efforts across the region and here in Carrollton, access to these funds is critical to enable the projects and efforts that will transform our communities and address the recent challenges from the pandemic. We are actively developing strategies and projects informed by the CEDS document that will qualify for the funding from the EDA and other federal and state agencies. Getting this document in place lays a key cornerstone to the future for the region.”

“I believe that rural America is at a turning point,” added Pinkston, “and COVID-19 can accelerate a change. Rural areas offer the lifestyle that many of us are seeking – relational, safe, affordable, etcetera – but rural America has not transformed to provide the amenities and services that people require like high speed broadband, modern day care, modern restaurants, coffee shops, and other amenities and activities that people have come to expect in more urban areas. If we can provide those kinds of services and amenities on top of the foundational characteristics of rural communities, many will choose to return or seek these towns. Those that can demonstrate that those services and amenities are present, or are on the future roadmap, will have opportunities for growth and prosperity.”

About JEDC Partners in Progress

With a mission to increase the economic vitality of the Jersey, Greene and northern Madison County region, the Jerseyville Economic Development Council Partners in Progress promotes economic development activities targeting both large and small businesses with a goal to attract new entities and sustain those who are already doing business in the region. For more information, contact Shari Albrecht,, (618) 639-5332, or visit online.


From left: Nick Graham, Carrollton Square Initiative and Farmhouse Loft; Marcella Wilfong, mayor of Brighton; June Bizaillion, Calhoun County resident; Pam Long, Access Calhoun; and Barb Hewitt, Imagine Hillsboro president.

From left: Todd Dugan, Bunker Hill School District; Tonya Flannery, city of Litchfield; Elizabeth Nyman, Farmfront board director; Brad Tuttle, Jersey School District; Pete Visintin, Macoupin County CEO; and Kendra Wright, Imagine Hillsboro.

(Prepared for JEDC Partners in Progress by Melissa Meske/MMP)

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