Published December 09, 2015

‘Real-life’ application

Monmouth College civic engagement project received well by City of Galesburg
  • Monmouth College students make a presentation to the Galesburg City Council.
While the official name for a recently-completed civic engagement project by Monmouth College students was “Economic Reinvention Through Diversification in the Midwest,” a bolder title might have been “The Midwest Fights Back.”
  Students in “Politics and Government in the Midwest,” a capstone citizenship class taught by political science lecturer Robin Johnson, partnered with the City of Galesburg and the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development to examine how other similarly-sized cities in the Midwest are reinventing their economies from manufacturing to other industries.
  “No region of the U.S. has been more impacted by globalization than the Midwest,” explained Johnson. “Our traditional reliance on manufacturing as an economic base left the region vulnerable to a flood of lower-cost products from abroad as trade was expanded during the past 50 years. Many domestic manufacturers moved their production facilities overseas to take advantage of lower labor costs. The result for many communities is reduced economic opportunity, lower populations, stagnant incomes and a diminished quality of life.”
  Added Johnson, “Galesburg is a prime example of the negative consequences of globalization in manufacturing. The loss of Maytag and Butler facilities in the 2000s dealt a harsh blow to the city.”
  But Johnson’s students found plenty of reasons for optimism in their study. They presented their findings earlier this month to the Galesburg City Council and also submitted a written report, which said, in part:
  “In a constantly evolving, global economic climate, cities are forced to adapt and continue to find new ways to innovate and reinvent. This study hopes to provide the City of Galesburg with an overview of strategies being used by other communities across the Midwest. Diversification is a trend which cannot be ignored. Many cities have utilized diversification to bring stability and growth to their economies. In addition to diversifying, this study revealed trends of innovative ideas, which could also be considered for improvement in Galesburg economy.”
  In addition to the final report, each student wrote a paper on the specific findings of their research, as well as one on the overall class findings.
  Ken Springer, president of the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development, was impressed by the students’ work.
  “Professor Johnson’s class clearly immersed themselves in the project and were able to articulate a wealth of findings back to our leadership,” he said. “They analyzed more than five dozen cities to determine what made the successful ones tick. This information is very helpful as we hone Galesburg’s future economic development strategy.”
  Galesburg figures to benefit from the study, and so will Johnson’s students.
  “Being able to focus on the short-term strategies that impact long-term growth really interested me, and I am now considering pursuing a career in economic development,” said senior Drake Decker of Muscatine, Iowa, who is majoring in economics and business administration.
  “I was very impressed by the real-life application of our project,” said senior Brian Johnson, an exercise science major from Geneseo. “I assumed this might be used in a mock setting, but Galesburg is actually using our ideas from the project in the economic reinvention of their town.”
  “I really enjoyed dedicating my time to help a neighboring community,” said senior business major Erin Barnett of Port Byron, who joined Decker, Johnson and senior Corey Yost of Eldridge, Iowa, at the city council presentation.
  In addition to researching 66 cities, the class visited the site of Galesburg’s former Maytag plant and toured the Sustainable Business Center, a successful example of the city remaking an empty manufacturing building into a new source of economic renewal.
  The class also spoke with Wall Street Journal national economics correspondent Joshua Zumbrun last month via Skype. Earlier this year, Zumbrun wrote an article about efforts of Wabash, Ind., to reinvent from a manufacturing-based economy to one focused on tourism.
  Concluded Johnson, “This project provided useful information as students prepare to enter the workforce and begin their careers. Globalization isn’t going away and will impact everyone’s career in one way or another.”
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