CHAMPAIGN ? When the Champaign County Economic Development Corp. was looking for a marketing tagline, it settled on one emphasizing location and innovation.
"Location to the third degree, plus innovation to the nth degree" is what the economic development group adopted after input from a Chicago consulting firm.
But there's still a lot of work for the firm, Axelrod & Steele, to do ? including developing a new Web site for the EDC.
The EDC has only a skeletal presence on the Web. Its site ? www.cupartnership.org.? dates back more than two years ago to the EDC's predecessor, the Champaign-Urbana Economic Partnership.
For now, the site is a single page that outlines the agency's mission and work and supplies contact information. No fresh news releases or information is being posted there until a new Web site is designed.
That's one thing Jill Guth, the economic development group's executive director, says she hopes will be remedied in the next year, as Axelrod & Steele moves into the third and final phase of its contract with the EDC.
Other work in the third phase includes:
? Developing a community profile that can be updated in future years by the EDC staff.
? Designing a quality-of-life brochure that will appeal to a high-tech audience.
? Creating individual fact sheets on each community of 2,000 or more in Champaign County, including Rantoul, Tolono and Mahomet.
? Outlining a regional and national media campaign designed to attract the attention of magazines such as Crain's Chicago Business.
? Orchestrating what Guth calls "a small amount of advertising."
"A lot of economic development people are moving away from that because it's so cost-prohibitive," she explained.
What Axelrod & Steele's contract does not call for is the printing of the materials.
"It has always been the understanding that all printing will be done in Champaign County and by a Champaign County Chamber of Commerce member," Guth said.
The projected cost of the third phase ? the contract for which is undergoing legal review ? is $112,000.
That figure would bring the bill for the entire project to $200,000, which is the the ceiling set for Axelrod & Steele's work.
The contract with Axelrod & Steele ? usually referred to as "Steele" ? has been under constant attack by Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite and Urbana Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Walden.
Urbana has other bones to pick with the EDC, among them that Urbana is not getting a good return on its investment in the organization. Urbana recently cut its support for the EDC by two-thirds, saying it would instead use that money to try to attract retailers to Urbana.
One of Satterthwaite's main objections was that the EDC's marketing contract should have gone to a Champaign County firm.
But he also said he has been disappointed in Steele's work, both in research and execution ? and urged that the contract not be extended to a third phase.
Guth said some of the criticisms came after local officials asked Steele to come up with a draft logo and tagline in three days' time ? something she concedes was unrealistic.
But she said some of Steele's findings so far have been invaluable ? including its survey of site consultants about their perceptions about Champaign County. One of their perceptions: The community suffers from a historical lack of organization and cooperation among its economic development interests.
Steele's work, Guth said, will enable the EDC to move "to the next level." The marketing strategy and the amount to be spent on marketing is "totally different ... out of the box with what's been done here (before)," she said.
But it has taken a long time to come together.
"The biggest frustration (of the past year) has been lack of movement on the marketing program," she said. "A year ago, I was hoping to be done with this (by now)."
The holdup wasn't Steele's fault, she said.
Steele had no problem meeting deadlines. Instead, the delays stemmed from internal discussions involving the EDC's 36-member board of directors.
Last fall, the board and its various committees tried to hash out some basics, including whether the marketing emphasis should be Champaign County or Champaign-Urbana.
The issue was one of several aspects that took months to resolve.
Guth said the EDC could have enhanced and updated its Web site a year or so ago, but at the time, she didn't want to "throw money at something" that would be redone "three to six months" later. She didn't anticipate the process taking as long as it has.
Tom Bruno, who will become chairman of the EDC's board of directors in July, said he supports the Steele contract and was impressed by the presentation the company made.
Bruno, an Urbana attorney who is a Champaign City Council member, said he is not concerned that the contract for developing a marketing strategy went to an out-of-town consultant.
"The fact they're outside the community ? well, our target audience is all outside the community, and who's in a better position to judge what will impress a site selection committee about a location?" Bruno said. "Maybe an out-of-towner has a better perspective."
Likewise, the current chairman, Michael Fritz, said he is a great believer in creating a marketing strategy and putting in place the tools for implementing it.
Satterthwaite told the economic development board this month he had lost confidence in the EDC staff as a result of the Steele contract.
But Fritz defended Guth and the work she has done as executive director.
"Jill is by far the best economic development director we've had," he said. "She has vast technical skills, and she's a pleasantly aggressive person. That's the kind of person you need in this kind of work. She's a great relationship-type person."
Board member Tom Costello of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District emphasized that EDC board members ? not EDC staff ? had elected to go with Steele and had overseen and approved Steele's work.
"Is staff being made the scapegoat?" Costello asked, in reference to Satterthwaite's comments.
In the meantime, the EDC must grapple with financial restraints.
Urbana has cut its contribution for the fiscal year that begins July 1 from $38,000 to $13,000. And Satterthwaite said the city is considering whether it should withhold $21,000 of its commitment for the year that ends June 30 ? a possibility Guth calls "very discouraging."
The EDC's treasurer, Mark Dixon, said the EDC plans to cover that funding gap with money from reserves. Guth said the EDC has about $200,000 in reserves, some of which was left over from the Champaign-Urbana Economic Partnership.
Using that money, the corporation can "maintain programs and services when others are pulling back," she said.
The EDC's budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is $462,816, up from $457,370 this year.
Under the proposed budget, the city of Champaign would be the biggest contributor, at $105,988.
The University of Illinois would be the second-biggest contributor, allocating $13,261 for the EDC and $75,000 for techCommUnity, the network of high-tech companies coordinated by the EDC.
The UI, though cash-strapped, is maintaining its commitment levels from last year.
Private investment accounts for the third-biggest share, $85,000, and the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce contributes the fourth-largest amount, $64,000.
Urbana's $38,000 contribution would have ranked fifth.
The EDC still has not decided exactly how it will deal with Urbana's cutback in contributions.
Some board members said it doesn't seem fair that Urbana should get the same services after saying, in effect, "I'll take my ball and go home."
But the city of Champaign has recommended the board treat Urbana's rift as an anomaly and not do anything rash or precipitous.
"We're not going to escalate this war because it hurts everybody," Bruno said. "Eventually our sibling will come back to the dinner table, and we'll be one happy family again."
EDC balances recruitment with fostering growth
CHAMPAIGN ? When will the Champaign-Urbana Economic Development Corp. catch "the big one"?
It's a question Jill Guth is often asked. And Guth, executive director of the economic development group, quickly notes there aren't that many big projects to land ? especially in the two years of economic doldrums that followed 9/11.
"There are 35,000 economic development corporations in the United States, and there are 200 to 400 good projects out there," she said. "The odds are not that strong."
Many of the top projects identified by industry magazines last year were Wal-Mart and Target distribution centers, she said.
"Last year was awful, awful everywhere," she said. "This spring, we've seen much better activity. Projects that were put on hold are being re-evaluated."
Guth estimated the economic development corporation had about 50 "active prospects" over the last year, with about 10 the last year, with about 10 coming to Champaign-Urbana for site visits.
During the last 12 months, the EDC played varying roles ? some major, some minor ? in projects that created 416 jobs in Champaign County, Guth said.
The most notable was probably the attraction of American Premium Foods, which plans to open a pork processing plant in Rantoul with 210 new jobs. The EDC provided background information and assisted in a presentation for that company's board of directors, she said.
To be sure, American Premium Foods received other incentives: savings on electric, water and wastewater rates, a multiyear tax abatement from Rantoul's enterprise zone and the waiver of permit fees. It also benefited from about $4 million in state grants to Rantoul for waste treatment, road widening and utility improvements.
Another company, AmeriCall, wound up moving its call center, formerly known as Business Response, from downtown Champaign to west Champaign and adding 50 jobs to the existing 150.
That was a case in which an out-of-state consultant contacted the EDC for information, but did not reveal the identity of the client. It was many months before the EDC heard back about the project and learned that AmeriCall had decided to expand here.
Among the EDC's current prospects are three more call centers, one of which could employ as many as 600 people, Guth said.
Guth said the EDC also spends a lot of time familiarizing itself with local businesses, in hopes of accommodating expansions or solving problems that, if not addressed, could lead to the company moving from Champaign County.
"A lot of people don't understand why we visit so many companies," especially when some have been around for 50 to 100 years, Guth said.
"Companies with 1,000 employees, you'd better make sure they're happy," she said.
Some have "work force issues" and may need to be linked up with area training programs, she said.
Guth said the EDC tries to visit all high-employment manufacturers and distribution companies at least once a year. She feels high-tech companies should also be visited annually, and other businesses should be visited every other year.
Among local projects the EDC has worked on in the past year.
? Hobbico's expansion. The distributor of radio-controlled cars and planes is adding 30 people to its work force as a result of its 96,000-square-foot expansion in Champaign's Interstate Research Park. The EDC accompanied Hobbico and Atkins Group representatives to Springfield to make the case for state assistance.
? Supervalu's expansion. The wholesale supplier of supermarkets recently added freezer space at its Urbana warehousing facility. The EDC supplied information on the local enterprise zone and other incentives.
? Arnold Logistics' move to the former Southland facility. The Pennsylvania-based warehousing concern set up shop in Champaign to help serve HumKo Oil Products, and the EDC answered real estate tax questions for the company.
? Caterpillar Logistics' expansion. The company, which already has other quarters in town, took new space in the Apollo Industrial Park after the EDC identified building options for the company.
The EDC also worked with the city of Champaign to help Amdocs Ltd. get $75,000 from the state to help defray the cost of improving electrical service for its offices in the Corporate Centre office park. The company employs about 500 locally.
"We gave Amdocs a lot of attention," Guth said. "There was a real serious threat of them making changes if the community did not respond to its needs."
The Amdocs file, Guth said, "looks like someone's file at the hospital" after a lengthy stay.
Probably half the EDC's tips on business prospects come from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Guth said. The remainder comes from site consultants making inquiries.
Guth estimated the EDC spends 30 percent to 35 percent of its time on techCommUnity, the network of high-tech businesses in Champaign County. That amount of time "seems right, given the high-tech concentration here," she said.
Much of that work is handled by Sean Williams, the EDC's high-tech director.
Guth said she was recently asked by one high-tech prospect, "What do you do to make high-tech companies feel comfortable here?" Guth was happy to point to the techCommUnity network that helps companies exchanges information about research and contracting opportunities.
The prospect told Guth she was "amazed," that it was exactly what her company was seeking.
"Companies are looking for that nurturing environment," Guth said.
Michael Fritz, the outgoing chairman of the EDC board, has been involved in local economic development for the last decade. He said he has been pleased with the performance of the EDC the two years it's been around.
"To me, we've done a wonderful job of sustaining the vitality that's here," Fritz said. "The international economy has been in the Dumpster, and very few corporations are looking to expand in this economy. We're well-positioned to take advantage when the economy turns around."
And, he added, Champaign County is capable of landing a big one.
In 1999, "we had a strong shot at a Honda manufacturing facility, and we came in second place," Fritz said. "We came close to a huge grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth."
The $400 million plant ended up going to Alabama.
"They provided too much upfront incentive that Illinois couldn't match," he said.
The plant would have employed 1,000 to 2,000 employees at high wages, he said.
Tom Bruno, who will succeed Fritz as chairman on July 1, said Champaign County's task is tougher because it is choosy about the businesses it courts.
"We want quality employers with good jobs and clean industries, and we're not willing to sell our souls to get them," he said.
Some have faulted the EDC board as being so broad, it's unwieldy. Fritz said the structure of the Champaign County Alliance and its subsidiaries ? the economic development corporation, convention and visitors bureau and Champaign County Chamber of Commerce ? is under review.
The review, which should wrap up in about a - month, "might lead to modest structural changes," Fritz said. But he added that the EDC's diversity is one of its biggest strengths.
"We've done an exceptional job of bringing together the different organizations and groups, to get them to the table. ... That's an accomplishment," he said.
Champaign County needs a strong economic development effort if it's going to continue to prosper, he said.
"Historically, our community has ridden on the coattails of the University of Illinois and the rich soil that God placed around us," Fritz said. "We never had to work particularly hard on economic development."
But in recent years, the economy has become more global than regional or national in nature.
"If we hope to grow the community," Fritz said, "we have to be proactive in creating and facilitating (jobs)."
Facts about local EDC
Champaign County Economic Development Corp.
What it is: Collaborative effort to attract and retain businesses to Champaign County, especially manufacturers, warehousing and distribution companies.
History: Formed in 2001 as part of the Champaign County Alliance, which brought economic development, convention and tourism promotion and the chamber of commerce under one umbrella. The EDC's predecessor was the Champaign-Urbana Economic Partnership
Staff: Jill Guth, executive director and chief operating officer; Sean Williams, high-tech director; Juli Foster, information manager; Norma Wesley, part-time assistant (shared with the chamber of commerce).
Budget: $462,816 for the year that starts July 1.
2003-2004 Goals: Make a minimum of 100 visits to local businesses; influence the creation of at least 500 jobs through expansions or attracting new companies; find better linkages between university and business community.
You can reach Don Dodson at (217) 351-5227 or via e-mail at email@example.com.