The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Economic Development Corporation Making Progress In County

Seven years ago, Tom Doran of Carman decided to run for the Henderson County Board with an agenda to stabilize his property taxes and improve the economic condition of the county.

He says, "I won the election, only to realize that I really didn't know what I had gotten myself into."

"For the first two years, the county board chairman decided he was going to do everything in his power to keep me from my agenda. I served on his Animal Control Committee, Zoning Committee and Solid Waste-a long way from community and economic development."

Doran said, "It took two years of speaking out at board meetings before the chairman finally decided he would appoint me as the Chairman of the Community and Economic Development Committee..... the first time the board had such a committee, so I was starting from scratch."

Doran called around and asked a few Henderson County citizens to take on the task of establishing a not-for-profit entity separate from any government influence, similar to a chamber of commerce.

After several committee meetings, Henderson County Economic Development Not For Profit Corporation was established.

"The county had approximately $3,000 in their budget for community and economic development which was not being used, so I requested they give this to the new HCEDC. With the $3,000 and one other person (Richard Johnson, who was the only other person besides myself volunteered to serve on HCEDC new board) HCEDC was off and running.

Doran said, "crawling" is a more appropriate term.

He said, " being a new entity in Henderson County, no one had any the Health Mapping program. Henderson County needed a hospice service and pharmacy; in addition, the county needed to develop unity among the people.

"There was too much of the "north versus the south" attitude," Doran said.

Mary Reed, Henderson County Health Department's Executive Director, took on the task of developing a hospice service with help from the volunteers from the Mapping session.

Melinda Whiteman, along with some dedicated volunteers, took on the goal of developing a pharmacy in the county, and the HCEDC took on the task to unify the county.

Mary Reed accomplished her goal in late 2007. Because of her efforts Henderson County has a hospice service.

Melinda Whiteman accomplished her goal in late 2007 also. Because of her efforts Henderson County has a pharmacy which delivers, free of charge, to any resident in Henderson County.

As for unity among the county residents, the HCEDC along with the Henderson County Board Economic Development Committee is working towards a common goal for the county-potable water, he said.

"The whole county is in desperate need for potable water. This project is ongoing and will take approximately three to five more years to complete.

"During the second year (2004) of HCEDC, the $3,000 was running out, so the HCEDC approached the county board with a budget that would have helped HCEDC become a viable component toward enhancing economic development growth in Henderson County.

Doran said the county board didn't see it the same way, but "they did contribute $250 to the cause. In 2005, they contributed additional $250 toward the HCEDC's budget.

"In September 2004, HCEDC was approached by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs Ameri*Corps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program about the possibility of recruiting a VISTA volunteer to help HCEDC with several community and economic development-related tasks, but most importantly to give HCEDC a "face".

"We needed a coordinator to travel around the county and the region to tell HCEDC's story. Through the efforts of IIRA staff members, Lori Sutton (also a HCEDC board member) and Gisele Hamm, in February 2005, Robert Livingston became our VISTA volunteer.

"Robert hit the ground running-Robert became that "face". The VISTA program involved a one year commitment' however, we were so pleased with Robert we begged for two more years. With Gisele's hard work, she was able to grant our wish.

In 2006 with little to no money in the account, the HCEDC board decided they needed to expand membership with dues, fast. So needless to say, with assistance from the VISTA volunteer, HCEDC developed an approach with materials and wisdom and set out to entice people to belong with the only community and economic development organization in Henderson County.

Doran said, "By the end of 2006, we had secured 56 members and raised $7,431 (which included an increase from the county which totaled $1750) through membership dues.

"By the end of 2007, we had secured 44 members and raised $7,741 (which included an increase from the county which totaled $2,500) through membership dues. So far this year (2008), we have 8 members renewed with the dues totaling $3,060.00."

February 12, 2008, is Livingston's last day as a VISTA for Henderson County. Doran said, "The HCEDC would hire him in a heartbeat as a full time coordinator, but unfortunately we are still working on our funding and it isn't quite enough to be able to offer Robert a salary he deserves."

Listed here are several of Robert Livingston's accomplishments:

„taken on the roll of coordinator, which has many duties. He has traveled throughout our county and met with virtually everyone and shared our purpose. He has captured the county's great beauty with over 6000-8 x 11 photos, which he has so generously handed out copies to citizens who had an interest in the photos.

„ developed (with help of Sutton) a 7-minute marketing CD showing how great our county is, which is given to all our membership and anyone who would wish to obtain a copy.

„helped unite our county, which was somewhat divided due to attitude and cultures, through his person-to-person contact, and through expressing the need to understand that residents are all Henderson County citizens.

„helped develop and expand the membership of this organization from 10 to over 55, through an aggressive membership drive and promoting the need to join our cause.

„attended county, village and township meetings sharing HCEDC story and needs in hopes they would contribute financially.

„has been our personal connection to IIRA, WIRC, U of I Extension, WIB&T, Work Force Investment Office, Prairie Hills Organization and various other organizations-he has become a very valuable connection that has helped HCEDC continue their existence.

„gone the extra mile to attend conferences and training offered, in order to be more knowledgeable regarding the issues the HCEDC would be confronted with to build a stronger more knowledgeable organization.

„found the reason Henderson County was not receiving any recognition regarding tourism in the State of Illinois, and worked hard to establish the connection needed to put Henderson County on the tourism map.

„Through a USDA RCDI grant implemented by IIRA, helped to secure assistance to purchase computer hardware, software, and related equipment that has enabled HCEDC to increase marketing and communications through Power Point, projector and screen, portable display, and a lap top computer and printer, which we use to publish our quarterly report known as the Pathfinder.

„helped create, print and distribute the Pathfinder; he has distributed over 9,000 copies throughout the region.

„secured and set up an office in the U of I Extension office at no cost to the HCEDC, which he mans by himself on a daily basis.

Doran said, "Robert has been a great asset to the residents of Henderson County through his volunteerism to humanity; and I believe without the VISTA program, Henderson County would be still listed as one of the few counties on the "missing" list in Illinois.

Most importantly, I cannot say enough about Robert's dedication, commitment, concern and compassion he has shown as HCEDC's VISTA volunteer. I am very proud to have had an opportunity to get to work with Robert.

"We'd hire him in a heartbeat as full time coordinator, but unfortunately we have not yet secured funding that would enable us to provide Robert with even a modest living."

Doran's one wish would be to extend Robert's VISTA term, but unfortunately that is not possible. HCEDC has gotten the ball rolling; however, we are short a year or two from being self sustaining.

"We strongly believe if we could retain Robert as HCEDC coordinator for awhile longer, we could become a self-sustaining organization.

On page four are some of the valuable services HCEDC has provided since its inception.

Henderson County Economic Development Corporation continues to face challenges on a day-to-day basis with determination.

"Our most recent challenge is the fact Robert's term as being a VISTA will be coming to an end February 11, 2008. However, we continue to keep the faith that we will overcome this challenge. So, what are we going to do? We'll assess what we have, reorganize and keep going forward with whatever we have to do to make it happen."

Doran adds, "May the good Lord look over us and guide us to a better future."

(Tom Doran, LUTCF, CBC, lives in rural Carman and is President of the Henderson County Economic Development, Not For Profit Corporation.)