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MC to host Midwest forum

Jeff Rankin
On Oct. 9, Monmouth College will launch its new Midwest Studies initiative with a major forum focusing on economic development in Illinois and the greater Midwest. Titled “Roadblocks to Economic Recovery: Challenges for the Midwest Region,” the forum will be held from 2 to 4:30 p.m. in the college’s Dahl Chapel and Auditorium. It is free and open the public.

“We intend for the Midwest Studies program to immediately add value to our community, region and the entire Midwest,” said MC president Mauri Ditzler. “The economy in western Illinois needs help, and we are confident Monmouth College can be a catalyst for innovation and change that will add value and enrich lives. We want to be part of the solution.”

Headlining the forum will be keynote speaker Richard C. Longworth, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of the bestselling book, “Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism.” A former longtime Chicago Tribune correspondent, Longworth is a realist who will argue that individual Midwestern states, locked within borders drawn more than 200 years ago, are too small, parochial and incompetent to compete in a globalized world. But he is an optimist too, having stated that “the Midwest has always been the bellwether for American social issues, economic trends and political movements. What happens to America, happens first in the Midwest.”

Longworth will be answered by special guest speaker Jack Schultz, founder and CEO of the industrial development firm Agracel, Inc., and author of “BoomtownUSA: The 7 1⁄2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns,” which attempts to answer the question: “What separates the thriving towns from the struggling ones?” He believes that rural communities are the key to renewal of the Midwest economy.

A guest panel of practitioners will offer personal perspectives on the unique challenges the Midwest faces. Comprising the panel will be Colleen Callahan, Illinois State Director for Rural Development, U.S.D.A.; Jim McConoughey, president and CEO of the Peoria-based Heartland Partnership, an economic development; Bill Ratzburg of Deere & Co., a loaned executive for community development working for Renew Moline; and Larry Morrissey, mayor of Rockford, Ill.

A small business owner, Callahan specializes in giving motivational speeches and facilitating meetings and debates. The former agribusiness director for WMBD in Peoria, she has traveled abroad on several official missions, most recently to Cuba with former Secretary of Agriculture John Block.

McConoughey has more than 20 years in public service working on downtown revitalization and economic development. With The Heartland Partnership, he and his staff of 25 work hard to ensure a livable community, to expand the entrepreneurial climate and to broaden prosperity.

Ratzburg joined Deere & Co. in 1996 after serving as a senior vice president for finance and administration at two other companies. He has served as a director of business development and of internal relations at Deere, and he holds an MBA from the University of Wisconsin.

A native of Rockford, Morrissey was a young attorney in Chicago before returning to his hometown in 1997 to join his family’s law firm. He immediately became active in Rockford community affairs and successfully ran for mayor in 2005 at the age of 35. He was reelected last April on a platform of working to improve a local economy that currently faces one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

“Our goal is to create an interactive forum on Midwestern economic challenges among a group of talented and seasoned individuals,” said associate professor of political economy and commerce Don Capener, one of the event’s organizers, who will also moderate the discussion.

“We are embarking on a new era,” said Ditzler. “Monmouth College will become the forum for the exchange of ideas about the Midwest’s economy, culture and future potential. We believe in the people and natural resources of western Illinois and the entire Midwest.”