By Eric Dregne, Next Level
February 13, 2018

Two years ago, I met a group from Freeport at the Sustainable Communities Conference in Dubuque, Iowa. The team included partners from nearly a dozen organizations. I was impressed — with the team and with the vision for a more vibrant, healthy and engaged community. I had been working in Dubuque, leading community change initiatives since 2005, including community visioning and initiatives related to workforce, equity/inclusion, and improving outcomes for young people.

About a year later, I found myself in Freeport facilitating a group of about 80 people as they thought about how dozens of diverse groups in the community could work better together using a process called Collective Impact. At that time, I could see the progress being made — people and organizations had taken intentional steps to work better together. Together, stakeholders had begun to align efforts in the community, define leadership roles, and set a clear shared agenda. Important steps on a path for bringing new opportunity and growth to a community.

I was reminded of the Vision 2020 Galena process few years prior. Hundreds of community members took part and we defined a vision for Galena. The community got behind ideas like riverfront development, a new arts/culture center, and expansion of the history museum and the recreation center — all of these ideas are in progress today thanks to the combined and aligned grassroots efforts in the community.

Freeport has created the same opportunity. The efforts being led by a grassroots group — Collaborate Freeport, and supported by several organizations within the community along with local government, are gaining traction and build on each other. The city government is also taking action, having adopted a council-manager form of government last spring and a Strategic Vision and Goals for the very first time last December.

What’s most important is the city and community-led Collaborate Freeport are intentionally working together along with dozens of other organizations that represent downtown, the arts community, business, economic development and efforts to grow tourism. Together, they understand how a clear and shared vision for the city’s future engages residents and aligns partnerships — critical first steps to transforming the community.

This is the same kind of intentional, planned effort that successfully transformed Dubuque. Early steps there began after unemployment peaked at 23 percent — the highest in the nation. Dubuque’s turnaround started with leadership from the business community, followed by new leadership and planning within city government. Then a focus on public private partnerships led to greater investment and growth over the last 20 years. That’s the thing though — it takes time, it takes long-term commitment.

Just imagine how Freeport’s future success will impact northwest Illinois when it connects with similar success along Highway 20 in Galena and Dubuque! That’s one reason why I’m all-in for Freeport, even from 50 miles away. It’s why we should all cheer Freeport’s efforts to build a more vibrant, healthy and engaged community.

Eric Dregne is founder of Next Level. Journal Standard article link.