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Illinois Rural Community Conference to spotlight economic development

Downtown Jacksonville, Ill.
Jacksonville Main Street
Downtown Jacksonville, Ill.

Rural Illinois is more than corn and soybeans, the state’s two principal cash crops. The 35th annual Rural Community Conference, scheduled for Feb. 27-29 at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Springfield, will showcase issues from business succession to renewable energy.

Chris Merritt, executive director of the Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University, said the conference will offer a wide range of subjects involving speakers from across the Midwest.

“We want to provide some data that small communities might be able to use, some community economic development approaches that have been proven to work in some places, and showcase some communities that have made changes in the quality of life,” he said.

One of the conference issues will explore the importance of broadband. “I know that there are communities in Illinois that are promoting themselves as havens for remote workers. Mattoon has a formal program to recruit remote workers who might enjoy small-town life and its many amenities as well as good broadband,” said Merritt.

Quinn Adamowski, regional advocacy manager for Landmarks Illinois, will talk about saving landmarks as diverse as an old gas station or water tower.

“Communities that take advantage of what they have are those that will grow their population,” he said.

“Historic preservation is a huge opportunity from an economic development standpoint with all these different resources out there those communities can tap into,” said Adamowski, citing Illinois towns like Aledo, Paxton, and Jacksonville where preservation has played a role in downtown development.

Bob Sinkler, head of the recently formed Illinois Waterways Ports Commission, will talk about the progress that’s been made now that the state’s river ports have banded together to be recognized by the federal government. Sinkler said the commission’s goal is to attract up to $100 million in federal grants for restoration projects over the next two years.

Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.