Monday, February 24, 2014
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Guests present economic growth plans before Logan County Board

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[February 24, 2014]  Steve McClure, Bill Thomas and Dave Opperman were present as guests when the Logan County Board met as a board of whole Thursday evening.

McClure, of Opportunity Alliance LLC, was present with a request for Lincoln/Logan Enterprise Zone expansion. He was representing Central Illinois Ag of Atlanta. The farm implement business had a destructive fire last year but plans to rebuild and expand. McClure said that Central Illinois Ag would be making a $6 million reinvestment in the community with its business and would retain jobs and add five new jobs.

Only one comment of any concern was expressed by a board member. New information was provided that the addition would take little area in the extension, and the zone is now at 11.89 acres.

"I would be all right with that," Chuck Ruben said.

A straw vote indicated that the request for enterprise zone extension to include Central Illinois Ag would be approved Tuesday evening with no opposition.

Also present on Thursday evening for his first appearance before the Logan County Board was Bill Thomas, the new interim director for the Lincoln & Logan County Development Partnership.

Thomas has been actively involved in the Atlanta since coming to the community as a businessman in 1984. He has been involved in historic restoration, preservation and promotion of the Atlanta Public Library, the Palms Grill Café and other sites in the community. The continued development of "heritage tourism" has brought attention to the small community and significant benefits to Logan County.

Among other projects, Thomas' work on making Atlanta a major Route 66 attraction has made the town a national destination stop, bringing busloads and carloads of visitors. Route 66 also brings visitors to Lincoln and Elkhart as travelers continue their Mother Road trek through the county. Guest books at historic sites along the road have seen a record number of visitor counts. Of particular interest has been the increasing number of international visitors, who often start or end their journey between St. Louis and Chicago.

Board members Chuck Ruben, who serves as development partnership liaison, and Andy Anderson, who serves as the tourism liaison, and others made highly appreciative comments on the selection of Thomas for the interim position.

While the development partnership could provide Thomas with only a limited commitment of 90 days, he was enthusiastic as he spoke to the board about filling that time. He said he had several ideas he would be working on. As interim director, he plans to set goals with measured outcomes in line with the partnership's goals: to develop new business, retain current business and enhance the quality of life in the communities of Logan County.

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The reason Thomas was hired for the short term is that there is a collaborative effort in process between the city of Lincoln, the county and the four primary entities that serve to drive local economic growth: the chamber of commerce, tourism bureau, Main Street Lincoln and the development partnership.

The city of Lincoln has also held off in hiring a permanent director for the tourism bureau, as a committee seeks to redefine and streamline the efforts of all the agencies. Also on the table is the option to merge one of more of the entities.

Meanwhile, towing the rope for the tourism bureau, Nancy Saul is serving as its interim director. Like Thomas, Saul is a local resident. She offers valuable experience and passion in supporting tourism in Logan County.

It was by way of a news release in mid-December that the formation of the discovery committee was introduced. The announcement said that the committee would take 90 days after the first of the year to research what each group is doing. The mission of the group is to develop a common vision and eliminate overlap, thereby reducing costs and creating greater focus on quality growth for Lincoln and Logan County.

Jan Schumacher, who represented the Logan County Board and county interests on the committee, said there had been a meeting last week and it was an "outstanding session."

Dave Opperman of the Logan County Farm Bureau was also present at the board meeting but did not speak.


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