EDP chairman looks back on 20 years of economic development

Published 11:56 am Thursday, December 22, 2016

By RICHARD TROLLINGER

Economic Development Partnership

An older friend had a saying about community service, which he characterized as the rent you pay on the space you occupy on earth. Although I like the sentiment in that saying, I believe that for those of us who are fortunate enough to live in Danville-Boyle County, community service is more of a privilege than a rent to be paid.

For the past three years, I have had the privilege of chairing the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership (EDP). This month, I will chair my last meeting of the EDP’s board of directors before passing the gavel to Ben Nelson.

Having chaired EDP’s predecessor organization, the Community Development Council (CDC), in the late 1990s, I have a perspective from which to compare the two organizations and our ongoing efforts to promote our community as a good place to visit, to live, and — most importantly — to do business. Simply stated, we do this much better today than we did 20 years ago. In large measure, this is because there is strength in unity. There are more individuals representing more organizations, including our city and county governments, involved in the public-private “partnership” that is the EDP than were involved in the CDC.

In the days of the old CDC, representatives of various organizations interested in the well-being of our community met once a month to exchange information and to explore ways that we might collaborate on initiatives that served our common purposes. But the structure of the CDC was loose and participation in those initiatives was completely voluntary. On many occasions, I and others dreamed aloud about how much more effective our efforts would be, especially in the area of economic development, if all the organizations that have a stake in their success were in the same boat, pulling their oars in the same direction at the same time and singing the same songs (i.e., sending the same messages about the advantages of Danville-Boyle County).

By 2006, it had become evident that in order for our community to prosper in the economy of the 21st century, creating a more unified organization was no longer an option but a necessity, and the EDP was born. It should be a matter of pride to all of us that our economic development organization is often studied by other communities looking for a model that will enhance their success.

This does not mean, of course, that the EDP is perfect or that all of its efforts set the standard for excellence. Excellence remains a journey, not a destination. But we in the “City (and county) of Firsts” have once again done something that is causing others to take note.

I take particular pride in the fact that ours is a public-private partnership. Both public (government) and private partners (e.g., Boyle County Industrial Foundation) have seats at the table and the EDP’s operating budget is a mixture of both public and private funds. Moreover, while the EDP board has only 15 members, the partnership represents 86 board members across nine partner organizations and local governments. Most importantly, viewed from the perspective of businesses selecting new sites for their operations, we appear to be a community that has its act together.

One of the most frustrating issues that we dealt with in the days of the old CDC was the persistent perception that Danville-Boyle County was an inhospitable location to open or locate a business. Today, we have professional staff who not only actively recruit new businesses but also host programs, known as Jumpstart sessions, to smooth the way for companies seeking to locate here or to expand operations that are already located here. During the long recovery from the Great Recession, expansion of existing manufacturing facilities has played a critically important role in maintaining the vitality of the local economy.

Another matter of pride to me is the way people who sit in on and observe EDP board meetings (our meetings are always open to the public) often comment afterwards about how impressed they are that there are so many talented and energetic people working every day to promote Danville-Boyle County to both the general public and to site selection consultants who are assisting companies in finding new locations for plants or retail businesses.

They are speaking not only of the volunteers in the room but also – and most importantly – the professional staff who do the work of the EDP, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, the Heart of Danville and Main Street Perryville. We are blessed to have such talented professional staff running these organizations; they are exceptional people who deserve our support.

Of course, there are many volunteers not in the room on any given day who also work tirelessly for the good of our community. This is vitally important because the extent to which a community believes in itself is a factor in determining its success in persuading others that it is a good place to visit, live and do business.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege of serving our community. One of the best days of my life was the day in the summer of 1994, when my family and I moved to this community. Because “It’s better here,” we look forward to living in Danville-Boyle County for many years to come.

Richard Trollinger is the retiring chairman of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership.