DECATUR — New Millikin University President Patrick White sees communities as focused too often on landing the big prize in economic development.
Fitting the smaller pieces together is a better approach, White said during an Illinois Enterprise Zone Association meeting Thursday at the Decatur Conference Center & Hotel.
“The lure of the next big thing tends to take the attention of communities away,” White said. “Thousands of communities are chasing the next big project.”
White compared economic development to building a reef in the inland sea.
Like reefs, communities need each smaller piece in place to prosper, so the “bigger fish” might follow, White said.
“If they don’t come, we will still have something,” he said.
The group of economic development officials from across Illinois was meeting to learn about new requirements as many communities, including Decatur, reapply for enterprise zones, said Craig Coil, Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County president.
Enterprise zones, which provide fixed incentives for companies that must create and retain jobs to receive the incentives, need to be kept viable, said Coil, who also serves as the enterprise zone association president. He said a 25-year extension is being sought for Deca-tur’s zone, which is set to expire in 2016.
“Without a long-term extension beyond 2016, companies will be less competitive,” Coil said. “Illinois is able to compete with an ongoing investment and job retention in those communities.”
White, who is a recent addition to the Decatur community, brought not only a multistate perspective to the presentation but also as a member of the Economic Development Corporation board, Coil said.
The competition involved in luring companies to different areas and states such as what is happening with Archer Daniels Midland Co. is not a good way of going about business, but White said it has become necessary.
“Too much is at stake,” White said. “We need to play the game.”
The structure and economic outlook of a city is important for all those involved, including universities, White said. Seventy percent of Millikin students are from Illinois, meaning they have an interest in what happens in the state, he added.
White has found young people tend to look for excitement.
“Young people are looking for a place to have a job, that has nightlife, where they can continue to grow and be a part of something bigger and better than themselves,” White said. “They want flexible and nimble lives.”