Chambers of commerce to lead area’s economic development

2009-07-23T15:35:00Z Chambers of commerce to lead area’s economic developmentJennifer DeWitt The Quad-City Times
July 23, 2009 3:35 pm  • 

On what many described as "a historic day" for Quad-City economic development, community leaders unveiled a new public-private partnership Thursday that will unite the region's economic development efforts.

With more than 100 community and business leaders on hand, some of the architects of the new economic development model rolled out plans for a new entity to be known as Quad-Cities First. The new organization will head up economic development sales and marketing for the region, including the Rock Island Arsenal, and succeed the Quad-City Development Group.

"This is a very significant day in the life of the Quad-Cities in our economic development efforts," Steve Bahls, chairman of the Illinois Quad-City Chamber of Commerce, told an audience gathered at the Adler Health Education Center, Genesis Medical Center-East Rusholme Street, Davenport. He said the new model, which has been approved by the development group and the area chambers of commerce, is designed "to eliminate and reduce the fragmentation in how we market the Quad-Cities."

Under the new model, Quad-Cities First will replace the development group and will be co-managed by a newly created Iowa Quad-City chamber and by the Illinois Quad-City Chamber of Commerce. Tara Barney, DavenportOne's president and chief executive officer, and Rick Baker, the Illinois Quad-City chamber's president and CEO, will serve as co-CEOs of Quad-Cities First. DavenportOne will merge its personnel, assets and work plan into the new chamber organization.

The Bettendorf chamber has endorsed the new entity, but will remain a separate and autonomous group at this time. The chamber as well as other Scott County chambers will be invited to join the Iowa Quad-Cities chamber.

The new structure was the results of "a daunting process" that involved the chambers, economic development leaders, elected officials and business leaders, said Mike Bauer, the immediate past chairman of DavenportOne. "We all found common ground on how we go forward," he said.

The process began last fall when the development group launched its own strategic planning that identified the need for change. In the wake of that process, four major private financial supporters of economic development - Alcoa Davenport Works, Deere & Co., MidAmerican Energy and Wells Fargo - raised concerns about economic development efforts and pushed for a new structure. A governance task force, made up of business and community leaders, was formed this spring to develop the new model.

''This needed to happen," Nancy Mulcahey, the development group's president and CEO, said. "The development group has struggled for three or four years. It was time for something new."

Since the development group was established nearly 50 years ago, she said cities have created their own development staffs, chambers have formed and strengthened, and other entities have taken on economic development roles. "We never did a good job of incorporating all those into our mission."

Under the Quad-Cities First model, a new chief sales officer will be hired to handle the organization's economic development functions. There are no plans for hiring a CEO of economic development. Mulcahey said she is not sure if she will have a role in the new organization, but completely supports the new vision.

Dave Green, who co-chaired the governance task force, said the strength of Quad-Cities First is its shared economic development focus. As the groups worked together, he said they found common objectives of bringing new capital investment, attracting high-quality jobs, creating wealth and growing the region's population.

"None of this works unless we have a clear marketing and sales focus," he said, adding that accountability is built into the new structure. "Unless we see results, this obviously isn't working."

During the transition, the development group's current staff is expected to join Quad-Cities First. The development group employs three full-time staff, including Mulcahey.

Mulcahey, who took the helm in January 2008, said it was no secret that the development group was running out of money under its current dues structure. Since the beginning of the year, her organization has gotten "very lean," but has continued the work at hand.

"We've done some really good things and hopefully with this new organization we can carry it forward," she said. "We don't want to lose any of the momentum."

Joe Slavens, the current development group board chair, thanked Mulcahey and her staff for the work even as the community worked to restructure the organization. He acknowledged that she had a difficult task "as her beloved agency was opened up for surgery and, in a sense, it is closed up today."

The new organization's priorities will be to focus on creating a common strategic plan for the Quad-Cities, coordinating fundraising, streamlining how the community handles prospective companies, and stepping up sales outside the Quad-Cities to attract more companies and jobs.

Quad-Cities First will be governed by a new 17-member board, made up of 10 private sector members and seven public sector members, who will represent Davenport, Bettendorf, Moline, Rock Island, East Moline, Scott County and Rock Island County. There are more than 30 members on the existing development group board.

The new board will be made up of a cross-section of community leaders, who will be nominated by the Iowa and Illinois chambers. There will be no seats reserved for the largest financial supporters, although Slavens said "we shouldn't be surprised if the major funders have people with the extraordinary talents we want at the table."

To the business leaders present, Bahls said "We ask each of you to think how you can support us." The crowd was encouraged to support Quad-Cities First financially as it has the development group.

"By the number of people here, it is clear there is enthusiasm for the process," he said. "The key is implementation and keeping the business community engaged."

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