Ford County economic development foundation disbanding

PAXTON — A nonprofit organization established 19 years ago to promote economic development in Ford County is disbanding due to a lack of funding and demand for its services.

The Community Economic Development Foundation (CEDF) will be dissolved effective June 1, the end of the organization’s fiscal year, according to the CEDF board’s president, Randy Ferguson of Gibson City.

Ferguson said discussions about the dissolution had been ongoing for months as a result of the continued decline of donations to support it. The organization had been receiving annual donations from the county and its cities and villages, but today, those government bodies are providing no funds, he said.

“Now it’s only being funded by the utility companies, the banks, the hospital — just businesses,” Ferguson said.

Since its establishment in 1994, the organization has worked to help cities, villages and the county attract new businesses and retain and grow existing ones.

The CEDF’s executive director for the past five years, Diane Johnson of Paxton, said the organization did a lot of good, as it was often the first point of contact for new businesses looking to expand into the area. The CEDF also has helped provide economic impact studies and other resources for use by municipalities and the county.

But a change in the cities’ reliance on the organization’s help led to a steady decline in funding over the last several years, Ferguson said.

“Our mayors are now more proactive,” Ferguson said. “Now the mayors are getting the first phone calls (from prospective businesses). They’re kind of handling it on their own.”

Both Paxton Mayor Bill Ingold and Gibson City Mayor Dan Dickey said they were thankful for the work the CEDF has done.

Ingold said Paxton’s city council decided to discontinue providing funds to the organization — which he said was an annual donation of $1 per resident — due to budgetary constraints “at least three, if not four, years ago.” Ford County stopped funding the CEDF a few years ago, also due to budgetary issues.

Dickey said his city was the last in Ford County to stop providing funding.

“I believe in the concept of ‘what’s good for the county is good for each community,’” Dickey said, “but when other communities are not investing (in the CEDF) ... then Gibson City’s money is going to support the county (and all of its towns), and it just didn’t make sense for us (when other towns were not supporting the organization, as well).

“So we were the last man standing at least as far as donating, but it didn’t make sense for us to be the only one doing it.”

Ferguson said he does not think the loss of the CEDF will hurt the county’s chances for economic growth. He pointed out that cities’ mayors are not only are being more proactive, but both Paxton and Gibson City now have tax increment financing (TIF) districts and other incentives they can offer for economic development.

Also, Ferguson said that Ford County and its towns belong to the East Central Illinois Economic Development District (ECIEDD), an organization that is available to assist with economic development in its six member counties.

Ferguson said the ECIEDD does “the same thing on a six-county regional level that the CEDF does.”

Among the services offered by the ECIEDD is 60 hours of free grant-writing services for the county and its towns. Already, Melvin has looked into using some of those grant-writing hours, and both Roberts and Sibley have used the service to apply for grants. The Ford County Board also utilized the service last year when applying for a $150,000 state grant that was recently awarded to help pay for most of the cost of the renovation of the courthouse basement.

The ECIEDD also can put together economic impact studies when business expansions are proposed.

Ferguson said the four-member CEDF board discussed the dissolution of the organization in October and then voted in January to start procedures to disband. The organization’s website, www.cedf.org, has since been removed.

Johnson said she has “mixed emotions” about the impending dissolution.

She said she hopes the county continues to strive to bring economic growth. She said counties and cities that work “cooperatively” with an economic development group tend to have “a lot of success.”

“It takes a concerted effort among all the parties involved to work together to promote a county,” Johnson said. “And I still think that although a lot can be done individually, when you put the resources of the county and all the municipalities and the economic development groups together, you can accomplish a lot more.”

Johnson said the CEDF’s remaining funds must be spent by the end of the fiscal year, specifically on economic development initiatives. Johnson said she has been discussing the possibility of using the money to help start a youth entrepreneurship program that would be operated out of the newly opened Rantoul Business Center but would benefit Ford County. Johnson had already been working to get the program started prior to the dissolution talks, she said.

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