Barry McNamara  |  Published December 01, 2021

Making Aledo Stronger Through Tech

Alumni hope high-tech jobs will lead to economic growth in Mercer County community 25 miles from Monmouth.

BETTER TOGETHER: These four Monmouth alumni are working hard to make Aledo, Illinois, a haven for... BETTER TOGETHER: These four Monmouth alumni are working hard to make Aledo, Illinois, a haven for high-tech jobs. Pictured from left are Shayne Sendera '21, Kyle McEwen '13, Mitchell Perez '21 and Kenzi Lafferty '19.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College graduates have a presence up the road from campus in Aledo, and there’s room for more.

That’s a message that Kenzi Lafferty ’19 wants to convey. Lafferty is the programs manager for High-Tech Small Town in downtown Aledo. The new company recently hired a pair of 2021 Monmouth graduates with computer science degrees – Mitchell Perez and Shayne Sendera – and is currently looking to expand. (Those positions can be found on, a resource available to Monmouth students through the College’s Wackerle Center for Career, Leadership and Fellowships.)

“Although we primarily are targeting computer science and data science students, any students with a background in tech and an interest in those positions can contact me for more information,” said Lafferty. “All these will be based in Aledo at our tech center.”

Also located in the century-old building that was originally a Carnegie-funded library is 2013 Monmouth graduate Kyle McEwen, who serves as executive director of Mercer County Better Together.

“We are the county’s and the area’s economic development organization,” said McEwen. “We bring resources, funding and value to Mercer County businesses, communities, local government agencies, non-profits organizations and school districts.”

Partnering with businesses

Lafferty referred to High-Tech Small Town as a “third-party employer,” meaning it provides employee leasing services or personnel staffing services. One of its clients is PK Global, a Fortune 500 company.

HIGH-TECH SMALL TOWN: Aledo company started in 2020 and employs three Monmouth graduates. HIGH-TECH SMALL TOWN: Aledo company started in 2020 and employs three Monmouth graduates.“And we have some exciting new partnerships in the works for this coming year,” said Lafferty. “However, it’s best for now to just say that we will have new positions on a rolling basis as we add more companies to our co-work and work with them for their hiring needs.”

Prior to the dawn of the pandemic, Aledo could be described as a bedroom community, with many of its residents employed farther up the road in the Quad Cities. That’s not necessarily a bad distinction for a town of roughly 3,500 residents, but now people such as McEwen and Lafferty are pushing for something more for the Mercer County community.

“We’re trying to attract high-tech remote jobs into a small town,” said McEwen. “We didn’t think it was possible pre-COVID, but that situation has helped in the sense of making remote work much more common. Now, a lot of employees work from home for area companies such as Deere and Caterpillar. Every week, I’m finding ‘I didn’t know this person who lives in Viola could do this,’ or ‘this person who lives in Joy could do that.’ You can find all kinds of skills that you didn’t know existed here.”

A poor internet connection would nip such remote work in the bud, but Lafferty reported that great strides have been made in Aledo and that her “entire facility now has fiber-optic capabilities.”

“We’re trying to attract high-tech remote jobs into a small town. We didn’t think it was possible pre-COVID, but that situation has helped in the sense of making remote work much more common.” Kyle McEwen

With that concern addressed, city and county officials hope to “limit brain drain in the area,” said Lafferty, and they can also offer a smaller cost of living – the opportunity to make, for example, an East Coast salary but only have to pay rural Midwest prices.

“It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” said McEwen.

After graduating from Monmouth, Lafferty earned a master’s degree in international business and data analytics from Hult International Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Along with that global perspective, she brings rural roots to her expertise, as she grew up on a farm near Fairview, Illinois.

Lafferty has made the physical move to Aledo, while Perez and Sendera travel from the Quad Cities to the Aledo office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Making Aledo stronger

McEwen was already living in Aledo, working diligently to improve his hometown.

“This place gave me so many opportunities and experiences,” he said. “It was such a perfect environment to grow up in and now to raise my own family in. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge every day of coming in and working to make the place I call home stronger.”

“Local tech employees are wanting to get in the building. Sometimes, you get a concept that sounds good in print, but it’s not viable. But here, it’s working. The collaboration is just awesome.” Kyle McEwen

And McEwen has some facts and figures to show that his organization’s work is paying off.

“I did the math on this, and even I was surprised by what it showed,” said McEwen of a report on Mercer County Better Together’s economic impact from March 2020 through September 2021. It showed a $15.7 million impact, for a return-on-investment of 87:1.

“The trick is, if you can’t reach out and grab it, it’s hard to understand what we’ve done for the community or what value was brought in,” he said.

That may continue to be the case with the broad strokes of McEwen’s organization and the specific impact of High-Tech Small Town, but even without facts and figures, there’s a very positive vibe coming out of the tech center.

“Local tech employees are wanting to get in the building,” said McEwen. “Sometimes, you get a concept that sounds good in print, but it’s not viable. But here, it’s working. The collaboration is just awesome.”

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