Heartland Partnership situation not easy to figure out

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To date I have stayed silent on the whole mess at the Heartland Partnership. It's mostly because I've been trying to figure it out.

For some time now the local media has been reporting nothing but good news from the Partnership and its various components, such as the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois and the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce. You know the stuff I'm referring to: Good scores on the economic development scorecard, being named by this or that national group as a Top 100 place to live or develop a business or a top performing city and other items.

We've reported successes the Partnership and its former president Jim McConoughey helped achieve, such as the new Cancer Research Center at the local medical school and Quest Charter Academy. There has been growth in Pekin along the river helped by the Port Authority that was started by McConoughey and the Heartland Partnership.

I could go on listing items, but you get the picture.

If things ain't broke, why do they need to fixing? Why was Frank Knott and his gang called in to look into the Heartland Partnership and its economic development efforts? Is it simply because something didn't go the way some others wanted? If that's the case, what was it? Who ordered this and why?

Naturally, Knott found problems. He made suggestions for changes. What did we expect? Nothing is perfect; anything can be improved. The depth of the problems listed in his report was surprising, however.

I doubt Knott and his ViTAL Economy Alliance zeroed in on McConoughey, who headed the Heartland Partnership for 10 years after being brought in to define the organization and its various parts. But somebody did; somebody wanted McConoughey gone, in my opinion.

They got what they wanted, of course. He resigned a couple weeks ago, believing it best for the organization that he do so as it was led through a reorganization plan, some of which the Partnership's own board of directors was kept in the dark about. Something wasn't right about that.

Before somebody says I'm being naïve, that the media were only hearing about the successes and not the failures, that is undoubtedly true. But that is just the way it is with most economic development organizations. To now say the Heartland Partnership and EDC weren't being transparent enough seems to go against the normal EDC business model. I've always been under the impression the EDC-type groups would love to trumpet to the world when potential employers come knocking but cannot because the potential employers don't want that.  

I have read the Knott report and its recommendations. I wish it had contained more specifics about problems. Also, I would like to hear more about what prompted this probe by Knott and ViTAL Economy Alliance. Why did the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission hire him?

In the meantime, a reorganization of the Heartland Partnership is underway. An interim CEO is in place and it's likely the organization will look quite different before long.

I wish those heading the reorganization well. I hope they are transparent. And more than anything, I hope they are able to get it done without destroying any momentum the Heartland Partnership had going.

Partnership annual meeting postponed; awards delayed

The upheaval at the Heartland Partnership has resulted in the organization's annual meeting being postponed indefinitely. The awards usually presented at that meeting, including the prestigious Athena Award, will be delayed.

The annual meeting was scheduled for Sept. 12 at the Sheraton.

The 2012 Athena, Community Wealth and Outstanding Small Business awards will be presented at the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce's Thanksgiving Luncheon in November. The EDC's Growth and Innovation Awards will be presented later this year at an alternate event, said Renee Charles, director of public affairs and media relations for the Partnership.

Charles said the Heartland Partnership annual meeting has always been about looking forward to the future and this is not the time for that with reorganization underway. "The annual meeting is a celebration of what's to come so we need to get through this restructure and see what changes are going on and being proposed before holding the meeting," she said.

She acknowledged that the reorganization has caused a few layoffs at the Partnership because of duties being reassigned. Most of those let go were part-time or contract employees. She declined to give names or positions.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).