The Metro East’s economic future hinges on better collaboration among communities

For Castillo, the importance of a collaborative approach boils down to programs that help support individual communities so that people remain and they stay vibrant.

Assistant U.S. Secretary for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo listens as U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinksi talks about economic development in Alton on Monday. Metro East leaders are taking a regional approach to overall economic development.

ALTON — Leaders in communities across the Metro East are shifting the overall approach to economic development in the area away from their individual cities to one that places a premium on collaboration.

A few dozen mayors, state representatives, academic institutional leaders and other Metro East community voices underscored this point during a roundtable discussion on Monday with Assistant U.S. Secretary for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo.

“This community is unique in the sense that people are coming together and they’re sharing their best practices, their sharing their vision,” she said. “They’re putting the building blocks to make sure that this all happens so that it’s not just a dream.”

Castillo regularly traverses the country and said she pushes for more areas to drop the zero-sum game of economic development and work together more. It’s a point U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Springfield, underscored.

“There’s not a scarcity of resources right now,” she said. “We have this ability to be a great economic hub because of the attributes we have in this region and the development that is happening today.”

For Castillo, the importance of a collaborative approach boils down to programs that help support individual communities so that people remain and they stay vibrant.

“Economic development is not linear, it’s not one approach,” she said. “The work that we do has that flexibility to meet communities where they’re at. To be able to provide grants to support, not just the planning dollars, but the more infrastructural base.”

That kind of support is particularly essential as many parts of the Metro East stare down a near inevitable transition from heavier industry. Taken together, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, CHIPS and Science Act and Inflation Reduction Act all work to respond to this approaching reality, Castillo said.

“These three pieces of legislation are aimed at modernizing our infrastructure,” she said. “Now we just need to make sure those dollars are hitting the ground and starting those very big infrastructure projects.”

But this can still be challenging for communities in the Metro East, especially smaller ones that may not have the resources to adequately vie for federal grant dollars the Economic Development Administration offers. Many mayors at Monday’s roundtable emphasized that grant writing is resource intensive for funding opportunities that may not solidify.

The process can be daunting even for communities that do have grant writers, like Granite City. Mayor Mike Parkinson said it’s important for his city to share that resource with nearby communities.

He points to his neighbor, the City of Madison, which needs help securing some $30 million to repair the Chain of Rocks canal bridge, an essential part of historic Route 66 and regional tourism, Parkinson said.

“We’re all in a region together and we have to bring tourism to a region,” he said. “Tourists around the country and around the world aren’t just going to come to Granite City, they’re not just going to come to Alton.”

Parkinson said this is a departure from the partisan regional leadership of the recent past to one that centers community needs.

“This is local leaders working together outside of whatever their party affiliation is, and we’re starting to see more elected officials like me that don’t really care about the Democrats and Republicans but rebuilding communities,” he said.


On Key

Related Posts

Find Affordable Housing Resources in Missouri
Learn about the Dept. of Mental Health's Rental Assistance Program (RAP) for low-income households in Missouri. This program provides one-time assistance to prevent homelessness or help you move into safer and more secure rental housing.
The Future of Careers: How AI is Fueling the Job Market
Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the job market, creating new opportunities and reshaping existing roles. In this blog post, we explore the impact of AI on the job market and discuss the potential future of careers in an AI-driven world.