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MC class helps Galesburg think about economic development

Barry McNamara
Galesburg mayor John Pritchard fields a question from a Monmouth College student last week. Pritchard visited campus to thank students in lecturer Robin Johnson’s “Politics and Government in the Midwest” class for completing an in-depth structural analysis of economic development in Midwestern communities similar to Galesburg.
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Monmouth College students made an impact on the region this semester, completing an in-depth structural analysis of economic development to improve the city of Galesburg’s competitiveness.
Students in lecturer Robin Johnson’s “Politics and Government in the Midwest” class performed a comparative analysis of communities roughly the size of Galesburg and made specific recommendations to aid the economic development of the city. On the final day of class, Galesburg mayor John Pritchard visited the class to thank them for the efforts and to answer questions. He opened his remarks by noting that city officials like him are always looking for “good ideas to steal” from other communities.
“This information is extremely useful as Galesburg moves forward in restructuring its economic development efforts,” said Pritchard. “We are thrilled to partner with Monmouth College students because it demonstrates the regional importance of economic development efforts if our area of the Midwest is to grow in an era of globalization.”
Johnson, whose previous class projects have included a video for the Midwestern Governors Association and election surveys, among other projects, agrees.
“Our future as a region is tied to how we address the challenges from globalization, and no city is more representative of the challenges from globalization than Galesburg,” said Johnson.
The class divided into groups and each was assigned states of the Midwest: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. From there, each group chose three to five cities with demographics similar to Galesburg, chosen by criteria such as population (narrowed between 25,000-50,000), proximity to a large metropolis, economic foundations, whether or not the city was home to a college or university, etc.
The class researched not only economic development structures in 50 communities (including Galesburg) but also economic and demographic data, such as unemployment rates, poverty levels, incomes and educational levels, to allow better comparisons for Galesburg officials. Students also investigated the budgets and the number of full-time employees at each economic development organization.
In their report’s summary, the students wrote, “These communities need strong local economic development organizations and strategies to retain and attract businesses and jobs. This report shows that the most common structure in cities throughout the region is a public-private partnership. … The recommended next step for Galesburg officials is quick, relatively easy and inexpensive: upgrade the city’s website. The class strongly urges officials to examine other recommended sites from this report for ideas on how to make the site more visually appealing, focused on jobs and development and in a user-friendly format.”
Johnson’s class fulfills the final requirement of the college’s distinctive Integrated Studies curriculum. It is one of the Citizenship capstone courses that challenges students to “move past study and contemplation to conscientious action.” The idea is to make an impact outside the classroom, and then to keep applying that citizenship mindset for the rest of their lives.
Shannon Sullivan, a senior from Bartlett, said, “This project brought a lot of issues to light that I had not thought about prior to this class. The Midwest is struggling economically and this project has taught me a valuable lesson by making me view Midwestern issues with solutions in mind and taking a more active role in our local politics.”
“This project gave us the opportunity to provide Galesburg with viable initiatives that will improve its business sector,” added Bryce Ball, a senior from Knoxville. “It also led us to the realization that being willing to change and adapting to that change will enable us to compete in today’s global environment.”
Johnson hinted at the citizenship impact he hopes students like Sullivan and Ball will make when they leave Monmouth College.
“Students learned from this project how critical education is to address the challenges from globalization,” he concluded. “Higher percentages of bachelor degrees in a city are often directly tied to higher incomes.”

For more information, view the project resources: