Meet John Doe: A ‘Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy’ check-in — part 2

January 29, 2014

By Paul Gorski

I began a discussion regarding our region’s economic development efforts in “A Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy check-in” in the Jan. 8-14 issue. I have some good news to report and some recommendations for area leaders.

The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) plan is indeed “comprehensive.” Developed by individuals from the private, public and non-profit sectors, the CEDS committee and staff did some fine research and studies regarding the potential for economic growth in our region. In addition, public forums were held to seek public input and to allow public comment. So, what has become of the plan?

The plan identified a number of “targeted” industries. One targeted industry was “aerospace production,” and with the expansion of Woodward, Inc.’s footprint and operations in the area, the plan squarely hit the target. Woodward’s $200 million investment in the area should prove to be a large, positive impact on the local economy.

Another targeted industry was “industrial machine manufacturing.” The Accuride Corporation did us a big favor in targeting that goal by moving operations from Elkhart, Ind., to Rockford. Accuride has invested millions of dollars in the old Gunite plant in Rockford, expanding its semitrailer truck brake assembly manufacturing here. Thank you, Accuride!

So, you may have heard of both of these success stories, but you probably didn’t hear how they may be part of the CEDS plan. And that’s where I take issue with the CEDS plan; the lack of public awareness that we do have a plan and that there are no milestone check-ins. Who is responsible for periodically reviewing the plan and publishing a plan update?

The CEDS document describes itself as a 2010-2014 plan, but it seems to have been filed away only to collect dust. Yes, there is a “Measuring Progress” plan component. It is a small part of the plan. Our local leaders should live and breathe the plan, though, touting its strengths and addressing its weaknesses on an ongoing basis.

This is perhaps one reason why groups like Transform Rockford feel the need to “transform” the region. Talk is cheap, and some folks want action.

I offer this suggestion to local leaders and members of the CEDS committee: reconvene and review the plan. Ask for input and guidance from groups like Transform Rockford. Update the plan for the next five years, and encourage an independent group like Transform Rockford to supervise the review process. But let’s not reinvent the wheel.

An independent group could help the CEDS team re-evaluate and re-prioritize targeted industries and economic development projects. The CEDS plan lists “vital” projects; review that list and focus our efforts on the most important of those projects. Be open about how well the plan is working and where we need to bolster our efforts.

I’m not a huge fan of standardized testing, but we need to at least quiz our local leaders on what we’re doing with the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy plan. The CEDS 2010-2014 plan may be found at: http://www.rockfordil.com/success-stories/comprehensive-economic-development-strategy.

Paul Gorski (paul@paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper. Read “Tech-Friendly” at: http://rockrivertimes.com/?s=tech-friendly.

From the Jan. 29-Feb. 4, 2014, issue

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