By RONDA SAUGET
In December 2016, the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois created and initiated a comprehensive marketing communications strategy to tell a positive story of our region to site selectors, economic development professionals, investment bankers, and anyone who would listen.
So why now? As the American Bottoms Levee project nears its 100-year level of FEMA reaccreditation, it was important to let the economic development community know about the progress made over the past 10 years. Unfortunately, the FEMA decertification of our levee system slowed most of the development in this robust economic corridor for the past decade. Now, fast forward to today, over $110 million of new construction work puts our region at the 95.8 percent completion with the 100-year level project of restoring the 62 miles of American Bottoms Levee System from Alton to Columbia, Ill.
We also would like to thank the St. Louis Regional Chamber for partnering with the Leadership Council in helping to make this campaign successful. We want our economic development community nationwide to know about this progress and that SWIL is open and ready for new business development investment and job creation!
The effort was started by telling our story of success to hundreds of people in SWIL and the surrounding metropolitan area. The levee progress has enabled the Leadership Council to launch a new nationwide external marketing communications strategy focused on maintaining and attracting new business investment. We then joined forces with our strategic partner, the St. Louis Regional Chamber, to tell our story of SWIL to top economic development, international embassy representatives, site selectors, and the investment professionals in critical target markets, including Omaha, Chicago, and Atlanta. The effort has generated significant interest and business visits from economic development professionals that we have never seen before in our region.
During many of these meetings and discussions with economic developers, we noticed that the representatives either did not know anything about SWIL or assumed that we were a rural area lacking business activities. Creating “top of mind” positive awareness of the many business benefits of our regional area, such as multiple modal transportation benefits, workforce talent pool, availability of affordable land, cost effective utility rates, high quality of life, outstanding educational institutions, and other key attributes, is generating multiple benefits.
For example, many of economic development representatives mentioned how hard it has been for companies to find site locations with a strong workforce with technical and work readiness skills, so this core competency has grown even more important in the site selection process. Our Manufacture/Craft Your Future Campaign addresses this issue with presentations to over 7,000 students and residents in SWIL, this campaign encourages people to consider careers in the STEM related fields and helps them to connect with training and real sustainable jobs in these fields.
For the first time in a long time, this marketing communications campaign is generating positive interest and awareness in our robust business environment and changing perceptions about our region.
Despite the challenging questions about the State of Illinois financial position and remaining pension and debt issues; it has been wonderful tell a positive story of the many benefits of SWIL. We also valued and appreciated the work of the St. Louis Regional Chamber who has been our strategic partner from the beginning of this effort and remains a consistent force in helping us to drive regional economic development forward. By combining our forces with the St. Louis Regional Chamber’s economic development expertise, we have been able to speak with economic development professionals that we alone might not have been able to easily reach. We want to thank the St. Louis Regional Chamber for their professionalism and regional outlook in advancing our whole region ahead. Next, we are planning trips to New York, Dallas, and Houston by the end of the year.
Ronda Sauget, D.MGMT, MBA, is executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, a member-based, economic development corporation representing Madison and St. Clair counties.