© 2023 Peoria Public Radio
A joint service of Bradley University and Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Five-year 'Mission Morton' plan supports job growth, sustainable economy

Morton EDC CEO Leigh Ann Brown.
Tim Alexander
Morton EDC CEO Leigh Ann Brown.

Community leaders attending the 2022 Morton Economic Development Council (EDC) Symposium last week witnessed the launch of the city’s “Mission Morton 2026” strategy for enhancing the city’s tax base, employment opportunities and entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Though some of the council’s strategic goals for the city’s previous five-year plan went unmet due to the effects of the Covid pandemic, Morton EDC CEO Leigh Ann Brown presented an optimistic outlook for a strong and sustainable local economy over the next five years.

“We’re coming together to propel forward our mission and our vision for our community. We’ll be focusing on our core vision to maintain a strong and sustainable local economy. We look forward to developing new and existing businesses, growing our Morton tax base, increasing our workforce, building our residences and amenities and and helping Morton advance into the future,” Brown said during the symposium, which was held at the recently expanded Blu Sky (formerly Menold’s) construction and restoration business in downtown Morton.

According to the Morton EDC, the next five years represent an opportunity to leverage the city’s existing business network and industry clusters to enhance sustainability and generate economic opportunity. With labor scarcity affecting growth in many mid-sized communities, two key initiatives of Mission Morton 2026 focus on local business and job growth. Amplifying tools and resources for workforce recruitment, retention and skill development will be central to the success of the five-year plan.

“(The plan) will focus on new business growth and the entrepreneur ecosystem. We have a great partnership with the Peoria area EDC and Chris Setti and his team. This will help generate new jobs and help put Morton on the map for site-search (employment) opportunities,” Brown said.

Strategic focus points for local business and job growth within the plan include connecting with up to 40 business owners each year, following up with concerns and identifying growth opportunities. The Morton EDC also plans to meet with local business owners, human resource professionals and realtors to discuss and respond to workforce challenges, In addition, the EDC will host “Connect Sessions” with core industry clusters and continue to administer the city’s successful Morton Micro Grant Program, among other strategies.

“I think we’ve all tuned more into our organizations and our businesses the last couple of years. The last couple of years have really shifted our focus on what we do, why (we do it) and why it is important. We have certainly done that as an EDC by making sure we have organizational alignment and effectiveness, along with a clear vision to navigate a rapidly changing environment and economy,” said Brown.

To promote new businesses and entrepreneurs, the plan’s focus is on recruiting both a diverse mix of community-minded primary employers that pay living wages and offer benefits. The EDC will also strive to identify and help local entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses in Morton with training, mentoring, networking and financial assistance.

The plan also aims to advance organizational alignment and effectiveness by tracking and reporting the result of the EDC’s efforts in achieving the vision of Mission Morton 2026. A “robust” website dedicated to highlighting Morton’s economy and opportunities is planned.

The city’s previous five-year plan, “Morton Momentum” fell slightly behind its stated goals in most areas with the exception of retail sales tax income, which exceeded projections for the years 2017-2021. This is according to Clint Heinold, Morton EDC board president, who said the city remains ripe with growth opportunity.

“We recorded an increase in our sales tax income (with) over $21 million through October 2021, which is critical to maintaining and improving our city infrastructure,” Heinold reported. “It is interesting to note that the revenue accrued during the pandemic indicates that our community supports its local businesses.”

Data provided by the Village of Morton show that sales tax receipts for the city in 2020 topped out at $4,436,792 million, representing the high water mark of the Morton Momentum initiative of 2017-2021. 2021 sales tax income dipped to $4,482,176 million, which was the second-highest receipt of the five year period.

“The Morton EDC staff is ready and willing to help existing businesses expand and help prospective businesses find new space within our community,” said Heinold. “I want to point out that Morton is full of opportunity, with prime locations available for new and expanding businesses.”

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with donors across the NPR Network – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.

Tim Alexander is a correspondent for WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.