In 1996 a Marion Chamber of Commerce committee composed of Vice President Jim Brandt, Treasurer Don Bett, and Executive Director Stephanie Boien met several times to discuss ways of gaining broader support for their ideas of a separate area Industrial Development organization. Don Bett continued to speak highly about the Greater Rochelle Economic Development Corp. (GREDCO), a successful economic development organization in Rochelle, Illinois, which he had served as president when he lived in Rochelle. Boien continued to talk about a successful economic development organization in Tupelo, Mississippi, and persuaded the Tupelo chamber to host a two-day visit at their site so members could better understand what had made them so successful in attracting industry. It was decided at that meeting that the group would include representatives from all units of government in Williamson County.
The committee scheduled a two-day visit to Tupelo on November 17-18, 1997, and the Marion Chamber agreed to fund the trip, renting a 15-passenger van from Vogler Ford in Carbondale. Those making the trip included: Marion Chamber President Jim Brandt, Secretary Don Bett and Executive Director Stephanie Boien; Williamson County Board Chairman Wendell Fisher; Marion Realtor Dave Thompson; Marion City Councilman Dog Connell; banker Clarke Deacon; Herrin Mayor Ed Quaglia; Herrin City Commissioner Lynn Fratinni; GTE Economic Development Director for Southern Illinois Jim Manis; and Williamson County Economic Development Director Celeste Sollers. Tupelo officials presented an excellent program, tour, and even hosted the evening dinner meeting at the local country club. There were several ideas and recommendations discussed with the group, and everyone returned with the idea that Williamson County needed to organize a new professional group dedicated to promoting economic development through attracting and encouraging manufacturing industries to establish facilities in the county.