Can the Sauk Valley expect an instant transformation into an economic powerhouse as the result of "Boomtown USA" author Jack Schultz's keynote address at this week's Sauk Valley Symposium?
But, we do believe a transformational process has begun in a number of people's minds, after being exposed to Schultz's economic development principles.
Schultz's book is subtitled, "The 7 1/2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns."
Schultz's presentation Wednesday evening outlined those keys. Along the way, he provided persuasive evidence about how approaches like adopting a can-do attitude, leveraging your resources, and building your brand can be important factors.
Many people who came to Sauk Valley Community College left impressed by Schultz's message, and by that of Jason Anderson, Rochelle's economic development director, who explained how Rochelle's application of Schultz's principles inspired more than a billion dollars of investment and created 1,500 jobs.
Of course, jobs are what the Sauk Valley needs. Lee County would require about 1,000 new jobs if it hopes to reach full employment, given the current work force. Whiteside County's job deficit is closer to 1,700.
Also inspirational were the words of Craig Lindvahl, executive director of the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship. Lindvahl spoke about an exciting program for high school students called Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, or CEO.
Founded in Effingham, the program immerses high school juniors and seniors in business operations and entrepreneurial strategies. They visit about 50 businesses and hear talks from 50 to 75 guest speakers. They create their own business plans and launch their own businesses. Students emerge with confidence, maturity, business savvy, and a new way of thinking about their hometowns.
Lindvahl said one class of 25 students was polled at the start of the CEO program; three students said they would consider returning to Effingham after college. After concluding the program, the same students were polled: 21 out of 25 said they would consider returning to town.
They had seen the interesting and vibrant business opportunities in their community of 12,000, and they wanted to be a part of it.
Wouldn't it be wonderful for the same thing to happen to students here?
Instead of the region exporting many its top students, wouldn't it be great if we had a better chance to retain more of them?
Sterling is in the midst of applying for the CEO program to be brought here. We certainly hope this can become a reality.
Schultz's address is over, but its impact reverberates.
We encourage people to visit Sauk Valley Media's website, saukvalley.com, where a link to a 38-minute video of the keynote address can be found.
Copies of "Boomtown USA" will remain available to check out at SVM's offices in Dixon and Sterling for several more weeks.
Other communities across the country have faced similar tough economic problems that Rock Falls, Sterling, Dixon and surrounding towns have faced. By adopting new approaches and getting enough people to support them, remarkable improvements were made.
But gradual improvements over the long haul?
An emphatic yes.
Let us continue building toward that transformation, one mind at a time.