The Greater Freeport Partnership’s economic development efforts fall into many categories, but all are integrally tied together and need to work in tandem to create a thriving local economy. Businesses need workers to operate, and the workforce wants to live in communities with beautifully designed places and a high quality of life. To grow our economy, existing businesses need to expand and develop sites, or redevelop buildings and new businesses need to start. Moving the needle on economic development requires continuous synchronized efforts in all our areas of focus: Business retention and expansion, business attraction, design and placemaking, site development, workforce development, tourism and events, entrepreneurial support, and quality of life. In 2022, the programs developed by the Partnership gained traction in many of our focus areas as highlighted below. I’m excitedly looking forward to 2023 – together we will continue to position our region to attract private-sector investment. Our programs will gain more traction and our organization will become more efficient with technology. We will provide better engagement and promotion opportunities for our members. We will look for ways to build strategic partnerships both locally and regionally. We will hold an educational series with our Partnership Investors on topics that bring into focus issues around housing, education, property tax/assessments and population loss.
To understand where we are going, we must consider the successes we have been pleased to recognize in 2022. The leadership team at the Partnership has led efforts that are yielding noticeable progress. Here is a quick recap of last year’s highlights:
Commercial Development: The Partnership worked with City of Freeport and a developer to redevelop the Meadows Mall, landing national retail chains, and reinvigorating the southern commercial corridor. The Partnership strives to be a “solution-driven problem solver.” In this instance, the Partnership convened meetings with the former owner of The Meadows and the prospective owner to discuss project scope and the financial gaps that existed and then proceeded with developing solutions that helped bridge the gap. The Partnership introduced our cost-reduction programs such as the enterprise zone, tax increment financing (TIF), and introduced the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (CPACE) program all designed to reduce costs and bridge the financial gap, while establishing developer commitments that benefit the community. The Partnership received approval from the State of Illinois to expand the enterprise zone boundary to include The Meadows property.
Industrial Site Readiness Advances: The Partnership facilitated the approval of the intergovernmental agreement between Stephenson County and the City of Freeport, and approval of a development agreement between the county and In Grown Farms – all necessary steps to extend water and sewer along Lamm Road from South Walnut to Springfield Road. All easements have been secured and design engineering has started with the hopes to bid the project for construction in the first quarter of 2023 with completion by the end of 2023. This will make Mill Race Crossing Industrial Park a development-
Main Street Accreditation Received: The Partnership received accreditation with Illinois Main Street to become a Main Street community. This will provide a framework and technical resources to develop a comprehensive transformation strategy for revitalization of Freeport’s downtown. Transformation workshops will begin in the first quarter of 2023.
Partnership’s Community Business Academy (CBA) was established to provide an experiential, interactive virtual learning program for aspiring and current business owners. The first cohort graduated two female small business owners. Plans are underway to develop and fund the next Community Business Academy in 2023.
Twenty-five ribbon cuttings were held in 2022 for 13 new businesses and 12 existing businesses that have relocated.
City of Freeport completed the construction of the Chicago Avenue Arts Streetscape, making this north-south cultural corridor more pedestrian and bike friendly while replacing the 100-year-old underground infrastructure. The Partnership assisted the city with an ongoing communication campaign with the downtown business community and property owners. The bar on quality has been raised downtown and we are now looking forward to seeing this public investment leverage private sector investment in building rehab and renovation.
Events returned to pre-pandemic attendance levels, including the award-winning Pretzel City Brewfest, which was recently awarded Best Event in Budget B category (under $750,000) by Illinois Excellence in Tourism.
Northwest Illinois Ale Trail promotion has encouraged hundreds of visitors to try something new and find craft beer destinations in Stephenson County.
Be A Trailblazer campaign reached over one million potential visitors with thousands showing interest in traveling to Freeport & Stephenson County for outdoor recreation and shopping experiences.
Manufacturing Day: The Partnership worked with CareerTEC and Highland Community College to coordinate Manufacturing Day, which was held Friday, November 18. This event is a great opportunity to expose area high school students to manufacturing careers and local job opportunities.
FHS Career & Job Fair: The Partnership promoted the FHS Career & Job Fair, held on November 22 to area employers as an opportunity to connect with the future workforce and expose high school students to different career paths.
HR Roundtable: The Partnership hosted a kick-off meeting for our new Human Resources Roundtable, with additional meetings scheduled for 2023.
Retirement: 2022 also saw the “official retirement” of our very own Tess Dahm after 26+ years of service. Many thanks to Tess for her years of service.
The Partnership understands a strong foundation must be created in our quality of life before all else. For economic development efforts to achieve a higher standard of living for the community, we need to have strong relationships with organizations that impact all stages of human development from birth to late adulthood. Equally as important, partnerships with organizations and firms that impact physical land development, infrastructure, building construction and rehabilitation play pivotal roles in industry and investment. When organizations value equity and sustainability, we can achieve the highest outcomes. The Partnership cannot do this work alone, that is why we are committed to continuous collaboration with our business, education, health care and government partners for Freeport and Stephenson County to become the destination of choice to visit, live, work, play and grow.
Mark Williams is the executive director of the Partnership and can be reached at email@example.com or 815-233-1356.