MCEDC hosts inaugural annual meeting - Republic-Times | News

MCEDC hosts inaugural annual meeting

By on April 12, 2017 at 2:02 pm

From left, Monroe County members of the Southwestern Illinois Flood Protection District Council Board of Directors, Bruce Brinkman, David Baxmeyer and John Conrad, were honored for their contributions to re-establishing FEMA accreditation for the region’s Mississippi River levees. At right is Chuck Etwart of the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District. Not pictured is Ron Polka. (Alan Dooley photos)

A brisk wind from the west greeted many of the approximately 100 attendees of the first annual meeting of the Monroe County Illinois Economic Development Corporation as they walked out on the fifth story balcony of 11 South in Columbia on March 30.

There, most for the first time, attendees saw the splendid panorama visible from 100 feet above Route 3, with the St. Louis skyline and its Arch just 11 miles north in the distance.

Attendees then went inside to experience a wind of economic change and development for Monroe County and surrounding areas.

Outgoing MCEDC Board Chairman Jim Hill launched the session, describing the first eight months of operation of the not-for-profit, public-private partnership.

“We are very excited about the development opportunities in the region and the potential for the corporation to drive those forward,” Hill said.

He noted the MCEDC was an outgrowth of the former county development council headed up by the late Nora Feuquay. Incorporated last April, the MCEDC surged off the ground with the hiring of Edie Koch as executive director in August.

Hill, who turned over his chairmanship to former Monroe County Board member Terry Liefer during the meeting, said the MCEDC is seeking to grow the region’s economy while simultaneously enhancing the quality of life. Such growth will broaden the tax base to reduce individual burdens while maintaining necessary government services and programs, he said.

Koch was cited for bringing hands-on experience dealing with the complexities of state government.

Koch told the audience that the corporation is not confining its vision and goals strictly to an area defined by lines on a map.  Rather, it is seeking to bind people and groups committed to economic growth in surrounding areas as well as Monroe County. Dupo is also invested in the corporation. She also said the MCEDC is seeking to bring light industrial, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, as well as business headquarters to the region.

The MCEDC has already initiated a round of visits to area businesses to keep and grow local jobs. Koch also said supporting start-up businesses is a target. Both Koch and Hill cited a desire to grow opportunities for young people entering the job market to stay here.

As an example of growing local jobs, Koch told the audience the MCEDC worked closely with Imo’s in their decision to further expand their manufacturing facility in Waterloo, adding up to 25 jobs in coming years.

Speaking of the corporation’s development, Koch said that by the end of 2016, the group had doubled its investor/membership and “won” two business expansion/relocation projects for the area.

“There’s more where that came from,” she hinted.

MCEDC goals for the current year include completing a strategic plan, securing funding for corridor development studies for Route 3 and Route 159, developing more local incentives, supporting the idea of Data Center Tax Credit legislation and building an inventory of “deal-ready” sites. Koch also cited the need to build an effective website.

“Without one, we are invisible to outside interests,” she said.

A highlight of the afternoon was featured speaker Jim Schultz, co-founder and head of Intersect Illinois, a privately funded non-profit organization seeking to strengthen Illinois’ competitive position in bringing jobs and investment into the state.

Schultz told why Illinois should be high on considerations of any businesses seeking places to start or relocate.  Acknowledging a serious economic situation, he said Illinois’ economy is still the fifth largest nationally, and in fact, would be the 17th largest in the world if this was an independent country.

In addition to five international airports, all seven of the nation’s Class 1 freight railroads criss-cross the state, which also has the third most extensive interstate highway system. He cited the quality of the state’s workforce: 38 percent hold bachelor’s degrees or higher.
Joe Koppeis, developer of 11 South and an investor in the MCEDC described development aspirations he is part of, including adding either more buildings similar to the first office building there, or possibly a small hospital to the acreage in Columbia.

Koppeis has also developed the Rock City cave at the foot of the bluff in Valmeyer, and talked of the existing sizeable engagement there by the National Archives, preserving important federal records and data.  He said he hoped to see other businesses coming there, too.  Koppeis noted that the climate controlled caves offer an ideal environment for data management facilities in that they are weatherproof, provide defense against electromagnetic interference and are very secure.

The afternoon ended by honoring four men who have contributed countless hours to saving the 74-mile metro-east levee system when the Federal Emergency Management Agency threatened to decertify in 2009. Liefer told how many felt the effort would be futile and end in the astronomical increase in flood insurance for bottom lands from Madison, through St. Clair and Monroe counties.

But Dave Baxmeyer, Ron Polka, Bruce Brinkman and John Conrad accepted the challenge and went to work.  Chuck Etwart, who heads up the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District staff, commended the four for their roles with counterparts from the other counties that are resulting in success.

“We expect to achieve the required 100-year level of protection to secure the best protection and insurance rates within a year,” he said. “And restoring the original 500-year level of protection from the levees is now within reach as well.”

Alan Dooley

Alan is a photojournalist -- he both shoots pictures and writes for the R-T. A 31-year Navy vet, he has lived worldwide, but with his wife Sherry, calls a rambling house south of Waterloo home. Alan counts astronomy as a hobby and is fascinated by just about everything scientific.