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KCAPED to bring CEO program to Knox County

GALESBURG - The Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development discussed its latest plan to bring job skills training to Knox County during its annual meeting Thursday at Lake Storey Pavilion.

KCAPED Executive Director Ken Springer kicked off the event by announcing the organization's intention to bring the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities program to Knox County. The initiative offers a 90-minute extracurricular course for high school juniors and seniors that allows them to launch their own for-profit business as part of the program.

KCAPED is still in the process of deciding which Knox County schools will host the program. The organization intends to raise money to fund CEO and not ask area schools to contribute anything except students, but the program will not launch until at least the fall of 2018.

"The way the CEO program is supposed to be structured is there's a coalition of business investors in the community that contributes funds into the pool and that funds the program," Springer said. "That's a lot of the groundwork that we're going to be laying in 2017, is setting up the process to get that rolling."

The 15 to 20 students who take part in CEO sessions keep any money they make from their businesses, and they also learn how to dress and conduct themselves in a professional manner, skills that they could use in any professional field. They also gain the opportunity to tour area businesses and build a professional network, starting by discussing entrepreneurship with each other.

The Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship in Effingham created the program and it has already successfully launched in more than 40 cities in four states, Springer said. He added that the program and the relationships it spurs could help combat population loss - a problem that has plagued Knox County for decades - by keeping talented youths in the area.

"I think that anything we can do to help our youth network better with the professional community here just makes our community stronger," he said. "After evaluating the program and having met some of the kids who have gone through it, and meeting with the [staff members] from the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, we think it's an excellent program and we think it's going to fit very nicely in the community."

As for other 2017 plans, KCAPED will soon begin a target-industry analysis that will evaluate the assets Galesburg and other Knox County towns have and judge whether or not those make the towns competitive in the modern market. The study also will identify which major industries will become popular over the course of the next 20 years, and how Knox County can make itself competitive in those industries.

That could possibly include building new structures or bringing other assets into town that would prepare Knox County to be able to host these future industries. Springer said KCAPED would bring in an outside firm to conduct the analysis, and the analysis could be woven into the City of Galesburg's updated comprehensive plan, which the city agreed to begin working on in December of last year.

"It's not a very sexy process, but it's important for us because it forms the basis of the actions that we take from the next five to seven years," Springer said.

Besides providing a glimpse at KCAPED's future plans, the annual meeting also included breakfast for attendees and an address by Jim Schultz, CEO and chairman of Intersect Illinois. Schultz left his former position as director of the Illinois Department of Commerce in April of 2016 to head Intersect Illinois, a privately funded economic development company that aims to bring existing manufacturers to Illinois and also create new businesses.

One of the strategies Intersect Illinois uses to attract companies is to highlight the assets the state already has that make it competitive. Schultz said Intersect Illinois convinced to bring eight new facilities to Illinois and Vetter Pharmaceutical, a German company, to bring a production plant to Des Plaines by highlighting Illinois' loyal workforce and connection to major roads and airports, among other things.

Some of the benefits Knox County has in particular that could attract foreign investors include the railroad and interstate systems, multiple colleges and potable water, Schultz said. While the agricultural industry has also boomed in Knox County and the state, Schultz said the technology industry that requires skilled workers could be "a huge opportunity" in the future.

"We're going to increase food production by 100 percent in the next 30 years but we're going to add two and 1/2 billion people," Schultz said. "That means we're going to produce more food on less land. How is that going to happen? It's going to happen with technology."

KCAPED's annual meeting serves as its only major community gathering of the year. Springer said KCAPED will continue to host the meetings for as many years as possible.

"It's a good way for the community to reconnect with the work that the partnership does," Springer said.

By: Rebecca Susmarski
Source: The register-mail 

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