Rural Illinois Perspectives: TRRT welcomes a new column about rural issues by Timothy Collins

Welcome to a new monthly column from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western Illinois University. Rural Illinois Perspectives is the first of what we plan to be a continuing series of columns to inform residents of Illinois about important rural issues.

IIRA was created to improve the quality of life in rural Illinois. We help develop public-private partnerships with local agencies on small business development and community development projects in rural areas. The Institute works on projects in rural economic and community development, health care, education, public transportation, public management policies, housing, and technology. IIRA employs more than 30 professionals and support staff who work with community leaders in rural areas throughout the state.

This column marks the beginning of a new era for IIRA. Norm Walzer, our director since the Institute began in 1989, stepped down June 30. Dr. Walzer has worked tirelessly to create an institute with a statewide and national reputation for its research and outreach programs. He will continue to work with IIRA, conducting research, seeking out funding opportunities, and sharing his years of experience as an adviser.

Our new director is Christopher D. Merrett, who has been one of our research and teaching faculty members since 1995. Dr. Merrett, a geographer, also is co-manager of the Institute’s Illinois Value-Added Rural Development Center. He has authored more than 100 publications and reports on topics such as cooperatives, free trade and economic development. Because of his excellent research and teaching record, he was recently named Western Illinois University’s Distinguished Faculty Lecturer for 2006.

In addition, the Institute recently named Timothy Collins as its assistant director. Dr. Collins, a rural sociologist, came to IIRA from Penn State Cooperative Extension. There, he was a community development educator specializing in land use in south central Pennsylvania. He has authored more than 70 publications and reports on topics such as state-level economic development policy, rural education, and environmental issues.

Our transition to new leadership offers us great opportunities to build on Dr. Walzer’s many successes. We are looking forward to following his tradition of continuous improvement of our existing efforts, while developing new research and outreach programs as times change.

This column will be a vehicle to report on IIRA’s research and outreach activities. In addition, we plan to discuss social and economic trends, economic and community development, education, health care, and other rural issues. From time to time, we might have guest columnists or IIRA researchers discuss Illinois rural policy matters.

We are excited to inform you about IIRA’s work. More importantly, we hope what you read in this space will interest you in talking about rural issues with your friends, neighbors and government officials.

For more information about the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, see our Web site: If you care to comment about this column, contact Timothy Collins, 800-526-9943 or

Timothy Collins is the assistant director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University.

From the Aug. 10-16, 2005, issue

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