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DCCA office back in business

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Todd Mizener

It is a sea of mud now, but Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs represenative Jim Bowman and Silvis Mayor Lyle Lohse stand where a road will lead to the clubhouse for the TPC at Deere Run golf course. Silvis has obtained a state DCCA grant to build a new entrance to the future golf course.

ROCK ISLAND -- Business and municipal leaders sighed in relief last August when Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar reopened the state's regional economic development office in the Quad-Cities and reappointed James Bowman as its one-man band.

The Quad City Development Group, municipal and private economic developers had gone without Mr. Bowman's services for five years. The Moline native was laid off in 1992 during the state department's severe budget cuts and subsequent reorganization.

Mr. Bowman left the community, but not the field. For two years, he was president and chief executive of the River Bend Growth Association in Alton and Godfrey, Ill. He returned to the Quad-Cities and worked as project manager for the Quad City Development Group and then started his own economic development consulting business.

He's back with DCCA with a flourish, negotiating job-creating projects at the head table or working behind the scenes.

``DCCA is alive and well and we're in better shape than we used to be,'' Mr. Bowman said. ``We're more responsive. (DCCA) is still a bureaucracy and it's still frustrating at times in obtaining program commitments, but we're quicker in our response and have more technical assistance to offer.''

From his downtown Rock Island base, Mr. Bowman manages a 10-county territory reaching northward to the Wisconsin state line and south to Monmouth and Galesburg.

He works closely with the Quad City Development Group, with whom he shares office space, and with the Quad Cities Regional Economic Development Authority and economic developers from the municipalities in his territory.

Because the economy is good right now, he is generating an average of one or two new projects a week. Recently, he generated three new projects in one day.

He's always worked in a multi-community and bi-state region.

``Some people think that's a negative, but I find that challenging and filled with opportunity,'' he said. ``We get more chances at projects because we have two geo-political regions.''

He considers himself ``a Quad-Citian with a regional view.'' He recognizes that DCCA is not going to land every deal for Illinois.

DCCA's mission is to be the lead state agency for economic development.

``Our job is to improve the competitiveness of Illinois' economy in a global environment,'' he said.

The agency provides assistance, information and resources to communities, businesses and networks of public and private agencies. His title is now Area 6 Development Representative for DCCA.

Providing job training and developing an adaptive work force has moved up to the top of DCCA's list of priorities, Mr. Bowman said. As the available labor force has dwindled, many large employers need labor and struggle to fill jobs, he said. A problematic cycle is created.

As larger employers attract workers away from smaller companies, the smaller firms bear a larger burden of providing basic and advanced work skills, he said. DCCA can help. Armed with a variety of programs, the state is prepared to play a bigger part in the solution, he said.

DCCA offers industrial grant training programs for companies adding jobs, Job Training Partnership Act programs for workers needing new jobs, and Prairie State 2000 to upgrade skills in existing jobs.

A training issue that grew out of the Quad-Cities led to the introduction of Illinois Senate Bill 77, now in the state House Rules Committee. Economic developers in the Quad-Cities saw too many local projects lost to Iowa because of Iowa's attractive job-training assistance, Mr. Bowman said.

State Sen. Denny Jacobs, D-East Moline, introduced a bill that would level the playing field when Illinois competes with other Midwestern states for projects, he said.

Mr. Bowman is proud of DCCA's new services. One of them is a new service helping communities with strategic planning and preparation for economic development. The agency also is more sensitive to the turn-around time it takes to get information and make decisions.

-- By Rita Pearson (February 9, 1998)

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