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Group: DeWitt Co. should cooperate on development

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WAPELLA — A cooperative approach to economic development will produce positive results for communities, according to advice offered DeWitt County residents Wednesday by three Decatur development officials.

"The secret is very simple — you’ve got to cooperate for a common goal," said Phil Hazenfield, one of the founders of PARAGON, an acronym for Politically Active Regional Approach to Government & Organization Networking.

Hazenfield came to Wapella with Randy Prince, president of the Decatur Chamber of Commerce, and Steve Warren, business development executive with AmerenIP. About 50 people attended the informational meeting on combined economic development, which was sponsored by the DeWitt County Regional Planning Commission.

Warren told the crowd DeWitt County is a prime location for economic development.

"I see unrealized potential here," said Warren.

The growth of new jobs in an area is a key factor in economic development, said Warren, who works with dozens of communities throughout the state’s mid-section.

"If there is a magic bullet in this, it’s the attraction of new business," he said. Those new jobs can come from existing firms as well as companies new to the community, said Warren.

Bringing community leaders to the table to discuss their shared goals begins with a vision, said Prince. Initial discussions must take place that focus on what a county or community wants for its residents, he said.

In Macon County, each of the 12 members of PARAGON provides a list of top projects for their communities. The list ranges from providing air service to Decatur to sewer upgrades and a new sports complex. The projects are compiled in a book passed to state and federal lawmakers for their consideration during funding cycles.

"Just having a list of projects puts us ahead of 85 percent of other communities in Illinois," Prince said he was told by one legislative office.

The DeWitt planning board will continue its discussions in July of the combined economic development concept for the county. The next step, said commission chairman Jim Brady, is to form a committee of representatives from the major organizations and taxing bodies in the county.

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LaSalle County Coroner Rich Ploch said the office received the results Wednesday, but he declined to comment on the report’s content “due to the ongoing investigation.”

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