The future of economic development in communities such as Starved Rock Country may lie in the already established infrastructure rather than larger, outside investors.
At least that’s part of the message expected to be shared with both public and private community members during a local economic development summit this month.
Chuck Marohn Jr., founder and president of Strong Towns, will speak at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at Illinois Valley Community College’s room 124-125 to share his thoughts on how small communities cannot just survive but thrive in the current economy.
Rick Brooks, Princeton resident and co-founder of Little Free Library, has been a supporter of Strong Towns ever since moving to Princeton five years ago.
“The fundamental concepts that Chuck talks about and has done his research on, those concepts of economic development are somewhat counter-intuitive or at least not traditional. It’s good to see someone challenge the traditional strategies to economic development and have the data to support different approaches,” Brooks said.
Marohn wrote a book on the subject and the Strong Towns organization produces a podcast and newsletters to share with communities interested in the ideas, a core component of which is re-assessing how economic development is viewed in smaller communities and how to finance it with limited resources. Brooks said he expects it will be a three-pronged approach including how to attract more visitors, how to attract more residents and then how to develop a local economy that is appealing to the region as well as locally.
Brooks recommends the “decision-makers” such as city council members and decision supporters such as those who serve on commissions or local business owners, members of local chambers and engaged citizens to attend the event, which should prove to be a conversation starter.
Just be sure to bring an open mind.
“He’s an iconoclast in some ways but more and more people are getting the message,” he added.
The seminar came together when CL Enterprises CEO Peter Limberger met with Marohn and learned he would stop in Illinois as part of his Strong America Tour. The event is free due to a sponsorship from CL Enterprises.
Limberger said he and his wife, Inga Carus, believe the region has great prospects for a higher standard of living for all.
“It all starts with efforts of each town; we simply can’t wait for a big corporation to build a huge plant and employ thousands of people – first of all, they never will come, secondly they will again walk away if the wind blows a different way because they have no ties to the region at all,” Limberger said. “Just recently we heard of the closure of Del Monte in Mendota with 400 jobs lost and also the shut down of a sand mine which promised not too long ago a multitude of jobs.”
“Strong Towns is about a new concept of thinking how to make small towns once again vibrant communities where people want to live, work and play,” he added. “This is why we are sponsoring the event on October 22 and hope that many elected officials of the region will attend.”
Brooks said the smaller communities have a “sense of place and a respect for history” but they also have an incredible reservoir of energy and eagerness to participate and improve their community, which is sometimes lacking in more urban areas.
“I think we have undervalued that in the past,” he said.
He added that Marohn often encourages communities to identify strengths and build from that rather than focusing on weaknesses. Additionally, communities can look inward for assistance not only by assessing what they already have but geographically as well.
Downtowns have proven to be more productive land than bigger developments on the edge of a city’s limits, where larger businesses tend to take shape.
“We’ve sort of all been looking to someone else somewhere to make life cheaper and better and we’ve given up the unique strengths of our community that will help us thrive,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the key to all of this is working together and he hopes the conversation can begin with this seminar.
“If we work together and we plan together, there’s tremendous potential in this region from inside and outside,” he said.
Financial partnerships available, where to register
While the event is free due to already established sponsorships, additional financial partnerships are being sought.
Interested parties are encouraged to become a lead event sponsor for $1,000 or partnership sponsor for $500. They're also encouraged to make smaller donations to support the event or register for the event and encourage others to attend.
To register, visit srccf.org/strong-towns-a-starved-rock-presentation-october-22nd.
To inquire about a sponsorship, email Starved Rock Country Community Foundation President Pamela Beckett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Topics expected to be covered at the summit
Why are cities and towns slowly declining and how to approach the problem in a rational way.
Why inducing growth and development just doesn’t work anymore.
Why old and blighted areas are often more financially productive than shiny new ones.
The power of “little bets” to strengthen communities and improve the lives of citizens.
How humble public engagement can create amazing insights.
The surprising ways that strong neighborhoods make us better people.