Champaign County seeks new partnership for economic development

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The city of Urbana and Champaign County are asking the private sector to help raise money for economic development efforts in the county.

As part of that, Champaign County plans to quadruple what it currently spends on economic development, County Commissioner Steve Hess said.

Currently Marcia Bailey works 28 hours a week as the economic development director for the county and city.

“It is a full-time business being run part-time,” Urbana Mayor Bill Bean said.

Local leaders now hope to create a partnership between the county, city and private sector called the Champaign Economic Partnership, or CEP.

“Economic development to me is one of the most single important issues, not only in Urbana, but Champaign County,” Bean said.

Bean and Hess presented the partnership proposal on Tuesday to representatives from the banking, education, real estate, manufacturing and health care fields, and leaders from Champaign County townships and villages.

Champaign County cut its budget for economic development in 2011. Hess voted against the cuts in 2011, but said he believes the county will re-dedicate $1 from every conveyance fee now used for the general fund budget back into an economic development fund.

The county was spending $25,000 a year on economic development and believes the new conveyance fees will raise an additional $75,000 a year.

Champaign County said it will give $50,000 to the CEP and save the other $50,000 for special projects.

The city has pledged to give $50,000 as well to the partnership and hopes the private sector will match the government agencies, Bean said.

The CEP is expected to be fully functioning by Jan 1. 2015, Bailey said.

One of the businesses that was a catalyst for the partnership was Pioneer Electric, Bailey said.

Pioneer hosted the presentation and was the business to donate to the CEP, giving $15,000.

“We believe strongly in economic development,” Pioneer Electric CFO Aaron Stallings said.

Pioneer benefits when any new business comes into the county, he said, because it will use the company’s power or their employees will use the electricity.

The money raised by the partnership will go toward hiring staff, boosting Urbana’s web presence and recruiting businesses and employees, Bailey said.

Rick Finkbine, executive vice president of Sarica Manufacturing, said his company spends a lot of time recruiting and educating employees about manufacturing jobs.

He said he hopes the partnership will help with those efforts.

“Manufacturing is a different industry than many people perceive it to be,” Finkbine said. “We spend a lot of time recruiting, talking to people about the new kind of manufacturing, which is much more modern and clean than they may believe.”

Sarica would be interested in being part of the partnership, he said, because more companies in Urbana can benefit everyone.

“We would like to shorten the supply chain. The longer the supply chain the more costly it is. The more inflexible it is. Additional business around us would benefit us on a supply chain,” Finkbine said. “Obviously it would open up opportunities for additional customers also.”