IBJ: So, you’ve got five or six months on the job now?
Bodenbach: Six months on July 2.
IBJ: What have you discovered so far?
Bodenbach: This is my first time working in a government environment. Very different than the social sector I came from — the nonprofit and the private. It’s a different way of looking at things. Sometimes we talk about running things more like a business, but in our department all of our funding is state and federal grants. Even if we look at it and say, gee, we can do this so much more effectively, we can’t because the state or federal government says we have to do it their way. Approximately $15 million comes into the county through state and federal grants for community development and our department administers those funds throughout the county.
IBJ: Is that money down or up?
Bodenbach: I think it’s dwindled over the last several years. This year, most of our federal grants are up, not much but a little.
IBJ: Is that a result of the new administration?
Bodenbach: I’m not really sure. Trump is one of the many presidents who have come in and the first thing they do is zero out everything. Then, whatever process it goes through, it gets added back in. Talking to our staff, that’s a pretty standard thing. People here sit and hold their breath and wait and see.
IBJ: Your background’s a little unusual for this job. You were the head of a pregnancy resource center and in business development at Alton Memorial Hospital. How did those prepare you?
Bodenbach: When I came here, I said it’s like I took another hard-left turn in my career. I never seem to know what’s going to come next. For me, it’s a God thing, to be honest. That’s how I ended up at Options Now pregnancy center. It was just a calling I felt led to do.
I learned a lot about running nonprofit organizations, but I learned a lot more about myself, about how I’m wired as a leader. I tend be to somebody who comes in and — for whatever reason — can see where things are not working. I’m not very good at status quo. Put me someplace where it’s running well and just tell me to keep it running, that’s probably not the best place for me. I get bored easy, so I like a challenge.
However, this department is running remarkably well. There are a lot of great people with a lot of great integrity. We have several that have been here close to 30 years and still excited about what they do every day.
IBJ: Have you found some things that needed to be adjusted?
Bodenbach: On the community development side, we have the state and federal regulations we have to adhere to. It’s a slower process. Not that we can’t move that needle somewhat, but it will take more time.
On the economic development side, I think we have a lot of room there to do some great things. The county’s never really put a lot of resources toward it. We’ve never had an economic development plan, no real marketing for Madison County and no dedicated funding for economic development. It’s been more reactive than proactive. We are hoping to change that over time. We are also blessed to be able to work with several great, regional organizations which promote Madison County as part of their efforts and provide additional resources for our team.
IBJ: Some people will say if you address quality of life, you’ll address economic development. Do you fit in that category?
Bodenbach: Yes, it’s interesting. (Staff members) James (Arnold), Sam (Borders) and I went to economic development training in Nashville, and the people there think just like me. What I’ve heard is that economic development used to be more about bringing businesses to the community. Then, the people will come, the jobs will come, and the community will grow. Now, they’re kind of turning that on its head, saying you have to have communities people want to live in, then you’ll have the workforce, and once you have the workforce, then the businesses will come. I tend to believe that economic development is all encompassing. It’s about our parks, our schools, our churches — it’s about the big picture, not just getting businesses here.
IBJ: Has Madison County turned the corner in some ways? It seems like in the last several years, it’s starting to get more attention.
Bodenbach: We hear that a lot from our counterparts in St. Louis, that, as St. Louis grows, they are filling up to some degree. They don’t have a lot of land options if businesses want a big chunk of land, and quality of life (is an issue). Madison County is close to St. Louis, but we have a lower cost of living and it’s a great place to raise a family.
IBJ: Have you dealt much with surrounding counties on this side of the river?
Bodenbach: One of the biggest things I did when I came was just to start meeting people. I’ve done a little of that with surrounding counties. Those relationships are growing, and it’s great to see that lots of people have a regional mindset, meaning that we are truly better off working together as a region.
IBJ: What do you think the county’s greatest need is now?
Bodenbach: Making our communities a better place to live. Our unemployment rate is low so our available workforce is limited. That’s something we worry about as we try to attract jobs and businesses here: How are we going to get the workforce, how are we going to train the workforce? Our department works closely with Madison County Employment and Training to keep an eye on the workforce issue.
Plus, our population is aging. One conversation we are having is, we have SIUE right here. How do we keep the best and brightest of those students here instead of them going to other states and other opportunities?
IBJ: The millennial mindset?
Bodenbach: They think differently about quality of life issues. They want the parks and the bike trails and healthy eating and all those kinds of things. We need to build communities that will be attractive to them in order to keep them here.
IBJ: Back on this workforce issue, I hear this everyplace I go. At what point do the businesses that want to establish here lose interest because they don’t have enough workers? Or because they have to pay them more to come here?
Bodenbach: That’s the No. 1 issue with economic developers. Interestingly, when we went to the training in Nashville, the thing we heard is that, during the next seven to 12 years, the workforce is going to change drastically. They compared it to the Industrial Revolution, where they went from manpower to machines. They believe that technology is going to replace about 60 percent of what we consider lower-end jobs. And they gave examples.
IBJ: For example?
Bodenbach: Even at McDonald’s. They’re coming up with technology to flip the burgers, so you don’t need a human being to do that. They already have kiosks where you can place your order. Even Walmart, you can scan your own groceries.
What you’ll see is the need for people to work on those machines, create the machines, and not the people to flip the burgers or take the orders.
IBJ: Your department has administered Community Development Block Grants for years. Where do funding and applications stand?
Bodenbach: The county just approved seven competitive funding projects, each for $100,000. They are: in Venice Township, the Eagle Park overlay; in Edwardsville, the Fifth Avenue drainage improvements; in Godfrey, the Wick-Mor sanitary sewer lining; in Roxana, the Thomas Street water main extension; in Wood River city, water line improvements; in Nameoki Township, Courtney Boulevard storm-water improvements; and in Wood River Township, the Cottage Hills Fire Protection District fire truck acquisition.
IBJ: I’ve heard you’re planning a summit where crises agencies are going to come together?
Bodenbach: We have a loose working title of a “stability summit.” That partly came from the faith community, my contacts there saying, how can we as a faith community do a better job of helping people in crises? It will be at the end of October. A workshop heavy on the work. It won’t be about coming to listen to a bunch of experts. This will be about getting the experts in a room to come up with substantial work plans and timelines.
IBJ: What do you expect to accomplish with that?
Bodenbach: Hopefully, to build a stronger network throughout Madison County, for people who are in crises because of domestic violence, homelessness, mental health or other issues. It will be really good to see how we can all work together to create a better future for Madison County.