Regional Economic Development for Williamson County in Southern Illinois
REDCO participated in several economic development activities in the formative stages of the organization that met with much success in providing the citizens of Williamson County and the surrounding areas with good-paying manufacturing-type jobs. The board recognized early on that real economic growth generates additional jobs in its wake. For example, estimates are that every manufacturing job created in the area can be expected to generate anywhere from 4 to 7 additional jobs in related or service-type industries. To that end, REDCO focused on establishing conditions and building relationships that would generate additional economic opportunities.
A Charter is Granted
The Illinois Secretary of State officially approved the charter of the Regional Economic Development Corporation on March 23, 1999. The original Articles of Incorporation showed three directors; George Trammell, Donald W. Bett, and James A. Brandt. On April 15, 1999, Donald W. Bett and James A. Brandt signed a Notice of the First Meeting of REDCO. It was held on May 6, 1999, at the Marion Comfort Inn. At this meeting there were 11 at large directors elected, 6 appointed by the City of Marion, and 4 appointed by the Marion Chamber of Commerce (based on funding amounts from each organization). The elected directors were Jim Brandt, Don Bett, Dutch Doelitzsch, Hugh Crane, Gene Norman, Dave Behen, Marjorie Wright, Stacey Moore, Larry Jordan, Jay Sala, and Rudy Bond. The city appointments were Bob Butler, Dog Connell, Marlene Simpson, Loren Carter, Gary Mayer, and Gary Turnbull. The Chamber appointments were Monte Blue, Bill Nielsen, Steve Larsson, and Debbie Vinyard. The first officers elected were Chairman Dutch Doelitzsch, Vice Chairman Hugh Crane, and Secretary-Treasurer Don Bett.
At the second meeting of the board on June 10, 1999, the officers recommended that an Executive Director be hired to conduct the day-to-day operations of REDCO. After some discussion by the board, Thomas Wimberly was hired for the position. Also discussed was the fact that the City of Marion had appointed Marlene Simpson, the Herrin City Clerk, as a board member, and that Stacey Moore from Orpack Stone Corp in Herrin was elected as a board member. It was suggested that in order to help REDCO become an organization that was known countywide, that REDCO should have some more board members from Herrin, Carterville, and Johnston City. It was pointed out that a heavy representation was needed on the board from existing industry executives, and that the long term goal of REDCO was to make the organization the largest and strongest countywide industrial economic development organization in southern Illinois.
A New Organization is Born
When Marion Chamber Executive Director Stephanie Boien and her husband re-located to Missouri in 1998, Jim Brandt and Don Bett, with strong encouragement by Stephanie Boien, decided it was a good time to try some of the Tupelo recommendations. They thought it was an ideal time to separate the direct industrial development activities from the Marion Chamber, to pool all resources with as many others in the area as possible, and form a professional organization that could hire an experienced executive director to focus exclusively on industrial development.
Before she left, Stephanie Boien, a close friend of Mayor Butler, suggested that Don Bett should talk to the mayor about the idea of a new organization and determine his support. Bett found the mayor having coffee in a local restaurant early one morning, and after a short discussion, the mayor quickly and enthusiastically endorsed the idea, suggesting that an exploratory committee be formed. He added that after that committee got the basics put together that he would be willing to join the committee. This meeting at the local Steak and Shake restaurant is the time and place that most people remember as “the day REDCO was born.”
Marion Chamber President Jim Brandt appointed a committee of Don Bett, Hugh Crane, Gene Norman and Dutch Doelitzsch to join him planning the details for forming the new organization. At the first meeting, Bett was appointed temporary chairman of the committee and he and Brandt outlined the committee’s goals and explained why they thought a new area-wide organization for economic development could and should be formed. Knowing that the majority of the initial financial support would need to come from the City of Marion, the committee thought it should again check with the Chamber Executive Committee and the Marion City Council to see if the committee had their full support, and found that they did.
At the second meeting Bett agreed to start work on a set of by-laws based on those he had received from GREDCO in Rochelle, and the committee decided to ask Mayor Butler to immediately join the committee. At the next meeting the committee decided that the organization should be named the Regional Economic Development Corporation and referred to by the acronym REDCO. The committee also decided that the by-laws should be set up so the new corporation could be a countywide organization. Everyone on the committee wanted an organization that would permit all Williamson County Chambers of Commerce, cities and governmental units to join.
After many meetings, a lot of hours getting ideas, recommendations from several successful economic development organizations, comments by industry leaders, and numerous reviews and revisions of the By-Laws, the committee tried to blend the best of the shared expertise into the REDCO By-Laws for governing the organization. The City of Marion and the Marion Chamber of Commerce shortly thereafter made an official commitment to start funding the new economic development endeavor. Attorney Steve Green volunteered to handle free of charge the legal aspects of gaining Illinois not-for-profit corporation status for the organization, and he began the process of obtaining an IRS tax-exempt status for the fledgling economic development organization now officially known as REDCO.
Prospects continue to be bright for REDCO. The cooperation and can-do attitude among both board members and other representatives of our contributing partners is exemplary. There is a viable organizational structure in place and functioning smoothly. Volunteers are ready and willing to commit the necessary time and effort to convince manufacturing representatives and their hired consultants to give Williamson County ample consideration when deciding on the location for new or expanded manufacturing facilities. Each succeeding year brings new successes for the economic vitality of Williamson County.
REDCO is becoming known in economic development circles for its cooperative spirit, its enthusiastic participation by volunteers, its attention to detail and its commitment to doing what it takes to make conditions right for the location of industrial manufacturing projects in the area. Indeed, the future continues to be bright for REDCO and, as a result, for Williamson County and all of southern Illinois.
In 2001, REDCO secured the financial backing of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program and what was then the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs to purchase 289 acres of prime land just ¼ mile north of Illinois Highway 13 between Marion and Herrin. The land became known as the REDCO Industrial Park and is valued at nearly $5 million. The mortgages held by the two governmental agencies included only about half of the acreage in the industrial park, which allowed for negotiations to make available un-mortgaged land for prospective industries.
REDCO reached an agreement with Aisin Holdings of America to provide some 45 acres of land for the building of an auto parts manufacturing facility, Aisin Manufacturing Illinois, LLC (AMI) in the center of REDCO Industrial Park. Additional grants and loans from both the state and federal governments allowed REDCO to complete infrastructure improvements that brought water, sewer and a road to the park’s new tenant. AMI broke ground in August of 2001 and began production of sunroof and door assembly units the following summer with 200 employees. The facility has now doubled its initial space to some 300,000 sf and employs nearly 700 workers.
Aisin purchased an additional 25 acres of land and established two additional manufacturing facilities between 2003 and 2005. Aisin Light Metals, LLC (ALM) now has a 129,000 sf facility located just south of AMI that employs more than 100 workers in an aluminum extruding operation. The most recent facility, a 67,000 sf building to house Aisin Electronics, Illinois LLC (AEIL) employs 120 workers to produce electric motors and other electronic components for various makes of automobiles. Current employment by the three Aisin facilities in Redco Industrial Park is nearly 1000 workers.
For years the economic development efforts of most southern Illinois communities were the responsibility of their respective Chambers of Commerce and city governmental officials. The Marion Chamber of Commerce and the city government of Marion were typical of this effort until a devastating tornado hit the area in 1982, killing 10 people and causing more than $100 million in damages. The spirit of the community was not broken, however, and rebuilding efforts were undertaken immediately.
The renaissance proved to Marion’s citizens the value of working together for the common good. Rebuilt businesses brought in new businesses. New businesses brought in other new businesses. City leaders and chamber officials were pleased, and they caught the vision of what could be if there were more instances of cooperation. It also showed, however, that the type of economic development that resulted in producing high paying manufacturing jobs required a long-term commitment and continued follow-up by development personnel—something that often was not possible because of the multitude of other responsibilities the chamber executive was expected to fulfill.
Several members of the Economic Development Committee of the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce started talking about a separate organization for Industrial Development as early as 1990. Some of the earliest supporters from that committee who continued to encourage this effort were Jim Brandt, Donald Bett, and Stephanie Boien, the Chamber’s Executive Director. Two or three years passed as discussions continued in the Marion Chamber’s Economic Development Committee, and at two different annual chamber board retreats. It was recognized by most people then involved in those discussions that a professional individual separate from the Chamber’s Executive Director was needed to handle economic development.
Funding for a new organization was considered a major problem, yet Brandt, Bett and Boien continued to push for a separate organization. After Stephanie Boien suggested in 1996 that she would be interested in taking on the challenge of directing a new economic development organization and hiring someone else for the Marion Chamber Executive Director position, the planning for a separate economic development organization became much more serious.
Learning From Others
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.
The Organization Expands
At the third REDCO board meeting on December 16, 1999, Mayor Butler reported that the City of Marion and the REDCO officers would like to see the Williamson County Government and all other Williamson County cities join REDCO in a cooperative effort for economic development.
At the board meeting of March 9, 2000, after a report on the contacts made to Herrin and Williamson County Government, the board gave the REDCO officers approval for more in-depth study on a possible merger of other Williamson County economic development groups with REDCO, and gave permission for Robert Ferrari of Herrin, who had chaired several other county economic development groups, to study the structure and by-laws of REDCO for recommended changes to accommodate a possible merger with them. The board also appointed a committee to discuss a merger with the Carbondale Business Development Corporation (CBDC) with the understanding that the merger talks with the five Williamson County groups were separate and independent from the CBDC talks. It was also at this meeting that it was reported that REDCO had obtained a 60 day right of refusal to purchase the Armstrong/Cox/Reynolds 490 acres of land that would eventually become known as the REDCO Industrial Park.
Over the next few weeks there were several meetings with city and county governmental units in Williamson County about a merger. Marlene Simpson, and a REDCO board member, was a strong supporter of Herrin joining REDCO, and was very instrumental in obtaining approval from the City of Herrin to join REDCO. Shortly after the Herrin City Council’s vote to join REDCO, Carterville and the Williamson County Commissioners also voted to join the organization. As a result, 7 new board members were approved at the Annual Meeting of REDCO on May 2, 2000. The new board members elected to join the current board were Mayor Bill Mausey from Carterville, Mayor Vic Ritter from Herrin, Bo Emery from Williamson County Government, Bob Ferrari from Herrin, Frank Colombo from Herrin, James Claxton, an industry representative, and B.D. Cross from Carterville. Because of the new structure, an organizational meeting of the board was held on May 16, 2000, in order to obtain input from the new board members. At that organizational meeting some by-law changes were approved and new officers were elected. Dutch Doelitzsch was elected Chairman of the Board, Hugh Crane and Frank Colombo were elected Vice Chairmen, Marlene Simpson was elected Secretary and Don Bett was elected Treasurer.