QUINCY -- Selling points for Quincy and Adams County have impressed nationally recognized marketing strategist Colleen Walton.
She said the long history of manufacturing, other business development and innovation has served the community well. Yet when she addressed business and civic leaders at the Great River Economic Development Foundation on Wednesday night, Walton emphasized that what this community does during the next 10 years will determine whether the economy thrives or slumps.
"What are we doing to fill (job openings) now? What are we doing to keep young people here once they graduate from high school or college and what are we doing to create workforce pipelines?" Walton asked.
With family from the Macomb area, Walton already knew something about the Quincy area. She has educated herself on the community a bit more since being contacted to speak at the GREDF annual meeting.
"If you're thinking of Quincy as a small town, it's going to stay a small town. Forward-thinking leadership ... needs to see what cities of 100,000 or a quarter million people are doing" to see where growth trends are leading, Walton said.
The strategist from Brand Acceleration Inc. of Orlando, Fla., said she's pleased to see Quincy putting in wayfinding signs that promote tourist attractions, local businesses, museums and coffee shops.
GREDF President Marcel Wagner Jr. said Walton's marketing skills expertise made her a perfect fit for the annual meeting. Wagner said with unemployment rates in the 3 percent range, GREDF has been exploring strategies to bring skilled workers to fill open positions.
"Last spring I met with Ron Wallace at The Herald-Whig to discuss talent attraction, and the (newspaper) was on board immediately, Wagner said. "Ron's team went to work and at Makerfest in November, The Herald Whig and GREDF announced the launch of the Talent Attraction and Retention initiative. This is technology at its best developed right here in Quincy. Our goal for 2019 is to test and implement this innovative strategy."
In addition, GREDF has helped facilitate Makerfest, which brought more than 300 students to meet with business recruiters.
"The purpose of this event is to make sure our students understand there are plentiful opportunities right here at home for a head-of-household career in a variety of fields," Wagner said.
Angela Caldwell, GREDF's workforce development director, also works with John Wood Community College, Quincy University, the Quincy Area Vocational Training Center and the Workforce Investment Board to educate new workers or provide additional skills for the local workforce.
Adams County Board Chairman Kent Snider pointed to construction of the new Adams County Jail and law enforcement center, at a cost of nearly $32 million, as one major investment in the community's future.
Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore said the approval by city voters for $89 million in new school construction also will improve educational opportunities for generations to come.
Other challenges have been addressed.
"At this time last year, Quincy faced devastating calls by federal and statewide officials asking for the closure of the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy," Moore said.
A bipartisan group of current and former elected officials came together to advocate for fixing the home, which employs more than 500 people and has an economic impact of more than $90 million a year.
"Today, thanks to all of those efforts, $53 million has been approved to complete the first phases of a $230 million campus renovation that will continue to make Quincy, Illinois, the city where veterans can count on receiving the care and support they've earned," Moore said.
Wagner and Walton both said if the community meets its business challenges well, the local economy will thrive.