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'Incredible things' are happening in Dixon – City highlighted as successful rural community

DIXON – Other cities could learn a thing or two from Dixon’s success stories.

The city’s commitment to improving residents’ quality of life has earned it recognition as a successful example of a rural community overcoming challenges.

The Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies recently released a series of profiles to help other communities find creative ways to counter issues such as declining population, aging population and economic challenges, including the loss of manufacturing jobs.

The Dixon case study was written by City Manager Danny Langloss and Norman Walzer, a senior research scholar with NIU (read the study at shawurl.com/3dyi)

"Dixon serves as a model for medium-sized rural communities because this active regional hub, home to about 15,000 residents, has employed a successful planning and development model focused on enhancing quality of life to retain and attract residents, especially young families and retirees," according to the CGS.

Part of the Dixon appeal came from the city's focus on making quality-of-life improvements in the community and building strategic partnerships.

A main example was how the city, the Dixon Park District, businesses, organizations and community members came together to build the $550,000 Water Wonderland splash pad in Meadows Park last year, with the bulk funded by community donations.

The Water Wonderland splash park project was a year in the making and kicked off after longtime residents Tom and Kathi Sherman pledged $200,000 for a splash pad after hearing of renewed interest with the city and Park District collaborating on such an effort.

The Park District and city both committed $100,000 and raised $140,000 in community donations; local businesses and volunteers donated labor.

Langloss emphasized key factors for a thriving community include leadership, strategic partnerships, community engagement, quality of life, identifying and building on local strengths, and capturing an ongoing momentum.

"Dixon is on the move, and there are so many incredible things happening here," Langloss said. "The important thing now for Dixon is to keep building on that momentum."

Another example was forming the #DixonStrong Leadership Team to promote community engagement and education outreach as well as create the blueprint for a possible community center.

Part of succeeding on many fronts is to know where you want to go and explore the pathways to get there, he said.

The city has also had recent success with infrastructure grants and attracting a major development to the Interstate 88 corridor.

The Gateway Project is a partnership with the city, the Lee County Industrial Development Association and two commercial real estate developers to open up 27 acres near Interstate 88 for future hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

Being included as a success story in the series can help drive more economic development to the city as well as the region, Langloss said.

"The stronger the entire region is, the better off all of us are going to be in the region," he said.

The NIU Center for Governmental Studies serves local governments in an advisory role and is available to help municipalities and counties respond, recover and prosper during challenging times.

“Our teams at CGS have been objective and knowledgeable partners with communities and state agencies across Illinois," CGS interim director Greg Kuhn said. "We collaborate with them to analyze the past and present, and build on their strengths and capabilities to continue to serve and succeed.”

Go to cgs.niu.edu to read the Dixon profile or for more information.

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