CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign County Economic Development Corp. moved to hire Craig Rost as its executive director this morning.
Rost, Champaign’s deputy city manager, is no stranger to economic development, having handled those issues for the city for decades.
Until recently, he served on the economic development group’s board of directors — including a year as its chairman — and frequently accompanied EDC staff members on retention visits to major employers.
“I really am excited about the opportunity. I’ve said for years we need leadership at the EDC, and now it’s time to put that into play,” Rost said this morning, adding the organization has a good professional staff.
Rost, who is retiring from the city of Champaign this week, would take the position left vacant last June when Mike Kirchhoff was let go after less than a year in the job. Kirchhoff later took a regional development job in Clinton, Iowa.
Lori Gold Patterson, the board’s newly elected chair, said a contract with Rost is expected to be signed Wednesday or Thursday, and he will begin the job May 1. Patterson said she would not disclose Rost’s salary until the contract is signed.
Calling Rost an “exceptional” hire, Patterson said the selection committee was impressed with the “strong relationships” and respect Rost has throughout the community.
“There’s a lot of trust in him,” she said.
Champaign City Manager Dorothy David said it’s not hard to see the fruits of Rost’s efforts in Champaign.
“All you have to do is consider how much has changed in the community over 30 years, to see Craig’s fingerprints all over that,” David said, citing development along North Prospect Avenue, in downtown Champaign and in the University of Illinois Research Park.
“Craig has 30 years of experience working with the development community and on issues in the community,” she said. “His experience is going to be quite an asset.”
She said the city intends to fill his position, but will likely hire a human-resources director and fire chief first.
Rost became Champaign’s deputy city manager for development in 1988. Recently, development responsibilities were shifted to the planning department, and Rost served as a liaison to the city’s fire, planning and public works departments as well as deputy liquor commissioner.
A native of Normal, Rost earned a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in urban planning with an emphasis on economic development.
He was first employed by the city of Champaign in 1981 as a zoning administrator and later as assistant planning director.
His wife, Gail, is also well-known in the community, having served as the former executive director of the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation and as a proponent of The IDEA Store.
Craig Rost, who recently turned 60, said he intends to stay in his new job a while. He said several elements of the group’s strategic plan — which he called “quite optimistic” — will take five years to accomplish, and he does not see the job as “a year or two thing.”
Rost said the economic development group needs to re-establish — and in some cases establish — relations with private-sector businesses.
The organization needs further private-sector support, he said, and it also needs to do a better job of setting expectations and telling its story.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she had no problems with the economic development group hiring someone with close ties to the city of Champaign.
“I was one of the people who did the final interviews, and we were very happy with Craig Rost. I’m not surprised that he was chosen,” Prussing said. “I enjoy working with Craig. He’s a really good guy who is fair to Urbana as well as Champaign.”
Prussing said she believes Rost will give the economic development group some stability and put an end to “the turnover they’ve had in the past.”
Since Jill Guth resigned to take a job with JSM in 2004, the organization has had three executive directors — Jeanne Gustafson from 2004-07, John Dimit from 2008-12 and Kirchhoff from August 2012 to June 2013.
Prussing said she didn’t think anyone from Urbana was in the running for the post. She said she wants to make sure Urbana gets a fair return on its investment in the EDC.
The economic development group is a public-private partnership designed to bring new business to Champaign County and encourage existing businesses to expand. It has a budget of $870,000 for this fiscal year, with a $100,000 projected deficit.
About $250,000 of the group’s revenue comes from governmental units. The group also gets $75,000 from the University of Illinois, $80,000 from private investors, $330,000 from grant reimbursement and revenue and $36,000 from miscellaneous sources.
The group’s board of directors also elected a new chairman and vice chairman this morning.
Patterson, who had been the board’s vice chairwoman, was elected chairman, succeeding Cameron Moore, who recently resigned. Mike Billimack, the board’s treasurer, will also serve as vice chairman.