City needs to shape county’s economic growth plan
As a more progressive member of the Sangamon County board – known for sometimes ruffling feathers because I don’t just go along to get along but question actions taken when it is warranted – I voted in November to fund the county’s $500,000 line of credit for the creation of a new Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and have been the only Democrat to volunteer to help push this discussion forward. The reasons to support the consolidation of economic development strategies in our area were clearly set forth in the presentation and study done by the Development Consortium known as “The Sangamon County Project.” The ones I found most important, paraphrasing the study, were these:
1. We have leaders with little or no vision for our area.
2. We study things to death and put them on a shelf to collect dust rather than actually take any action. (How many millions of dollars have we wasted on this over the decades?).
3. Everyone is territorial about everything.
4. If you’re not connected – usually politically – you’re out of luck.
If you agree with one or more of these statements, you know something needs to be done. How it is done is where the trouble begins.
The county has identified nearly 20 individuals who have or will contribute $25,000 from their businesses to get a seat at the table. The list is literally a who’s who in the Springfield business community – but they’re generally the same ones who have always been at the table.
Recently, Pastor Silas Johnson of the Faith Coalition for the Common Good addressed the county board about the need to have new voices included on the EDC board of directors. Even the recommendation in the county-paid study said the board needed to have representation of women (granted there are a couple right now), people of color and younger individuals. I’m sure we could name others who should have a voice at this table. However, who among these interests has the county’s required entry fee of $25,000?
The city is being asked to contribute $500,000. Granted, the city has its budget issues. However, $100,000 goes to the Chamber’s Q5 program that could be redirected, and the proposed city budget includes spending another $2 million for the 60-year-old Hunter Lake dream.
Here is where leadership could come from the City of Springfield. Instead of radio silence on the EDC concept and the calls for greater diversity on the EDC board, the mayor and council could commit to this half-million-dollar investment during the current budget process – but with strings attached. Those strings could be conditions on how that money is spent, including what seats would need to be made available on the board so that the board looks more like the population of our county.
Shaping the outcome of the EDC so we can actually have a mechanism to drag the Springfield area economy to the next level, offer a competitive place for business and give our young people a reason to want to live and return to the area takes the visionary leadership that the economic study finds lacking in Springfield. Municipal elections are just over a year away. Perhaps this is one way to make some friends.
Tony DelGiorno is a Springfield attorney who was first elected to the county board in 2012. A former Democratic candidate for state representative, he is running for re-election in November 2018 for a second full four-year term on the county board.