Effingham City commissioners want to see meaningful economic development, but for some the cost of joining a group whose focus is just that is too steep.The Effingham County Economic Development Foundation presented an invitation to the city to join the board of directors. The city would be allowed to two representatives on the board.The foundation is a repurposing of the Effingham Civic Foundation and focuses on the county's industrial livelihood and employment opportunism in addition to other supporting services to improve the quality of living.”We want to really make a good tie with public and private folks working together,” said President Dan Woods.Woods reported in the county the population of those over 65 years of age is growing at a rate of 171 percent as compared to the general population, while the working population and the number of people under the age of 24 is shrinking.Woods and Treasurer Claude Hudson also stressed the importance of the foundation aligning with resident values.“This city works very hard at economic and industrial development,” Woods said.
“It's a breath of fresh air ... the vitality, the vigor, the resilience that you see in Effingham County is because we take an active effort in trying to bring businesses in, we encourage business growth. That's going to serve us well because we have to counter these off-setting trends,” said Hudson.
But even with all the positives Effingham County has to offer, Hudson reported that statistics show more people are leaving the state than moving into it. Last year, Illinois had the second largest number of residents migrating to another state in the country. The year before, it had ranked No. 1.The foundation is set on reversing that statistic and giving college graduates jobs they can come back to, as well as a community they will want to live in. “People will travel for a good-paying job ... but just the things you're doing, making sure we're going to have fireworks on Independence Day, to make sure we have things like a new library, and the functions that bring quality of living to the community, as well as support the schools” will bring in new residents and increase the tax base, Woods said.The foundation is relying on the collaboration of all elements of the community, including high schools, colleges and start-up businesses.The foundation has a goal of 200 members and has seen a member investment of $100,000 so far.Woods and Hudson said for the City of Effingham, the annual membership fee would normally be $50,000, but with the personal invitation they extended a $25,000 fee for the first year.“We're requesting that you do participate as a full member,” Woods said. “We want to make sure that you do have an integral role ... I think the City of Effingham is seen as a leader. We wanted to make sure we had these conversations with you first.”Woods assured the council the two seats on the foundation board would be permanent, as long as the city pays its dues, whereas non-municipality seats are filled through an election.Mayor Merv Gillenwater voiced some reservations about the arrangement, even at the one-year reduced membership fee.“I think we still have some work to do before I feel comfortable,” he said, adding that while he is “absolutely for” the foundation, he thinks a free-trial membership would be the best option for the city.Commissioner Matt Hirtzel disagreed, saying that with a $77 million budget, the city could afford to take a risk, especially since the offer is at a reduced rate.“This is an opportunity for Effingham to take the lead, to say we're going to support it,” he said. “They're asking for us to lead, and that's what Effingham does ... In my opinion, this is a no-brainer. It's a risk, but the return on this can be so much higher.”He pointed out that with rising insurance and pension costs for the city, being proactive would benefit the city the most.“They practically had me at, 'Hello,'” added Commissioner Alan Harris. “I share some of Merv's concerns, but I don't think they're deal-killing concerns. This is an opportunity we cannot let go.”Commissioner Brian Milleville favored the membership, while Commissioner Don Althoff also expressed concerns about the fee.