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.