Regional economic development issues focus on collaboration

Regional economic development issues focus on collaboration among area colleges and universities

Published: July 1, 2013.

Leaders of the southwest area’s universities and community colleges came together recently with local economic development leaders to discuss how to collaborate more fully on regional development issues. The 12 universities and community colleges that comprise the South Metropolitan Higher Education Consortium (SMHEC) convened at Moraine Valley Community College to hear economic development leaders from the Chicago Southland discuss their visions for the region and ways in which the groups could work together to enhance outcomes.

Brother James Gaffney, FSC, President of Lewis University, chair of the South Metropolitan Higher Education Consortium (SMHEC), noted: “The meeting was a continuation of our groundbreaking collaboration on a number of areas, such as providing educational opportunities sought by the communities, emergency preparedness, and more. This collaboration of the community and educational leaders further enhances our existing partnerships with several key economic leaders in the region. We believe these relationships with the community and industry provide a heightened learning experience for our students, while enriching the surrounding community in a multitude of ways.”

Among those providing insights into the region’s issues and potential opportunities for higher education to help create solutions were Reggie Greenwood, director of the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corporation; John Greuling, president and chief executive office of the Will County Center for Economic Development; David Hinderliter, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce; and Mike Van Mill, president and chief executive officer, Economic Alliance of Kankakee County. Ideas included branding the area to change its image and unite the region, supporting the vast manufacturing and transportation assets in the area, and supporting local, innovative, small businesses. Also discussed were high potential infrastructure improvements, such as the Illiana Expressway and the third airport.

Frank Beal, executive director of Metropolis Strategies, an organization established by the Commercial Club of Chicago in 1999 to maintain and enhance the economic competitiveness of the Chicago region, addressed the Chicago metropolitan area’s slipping economic vigor and the need for initiatives spanning local boundaries. Discussion was facilitated by Ed Morrison of Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development, whose career has been spent helping regions successfully address formidable economic hurdles. His network-based models for economic development have been adopted by practitioners throughout the country. Morrison’s experiences and perspectives from numerous initiatives in which higher education was prominently involved provided important insights for the group.

Dr. Carmel Ruffolo, Ph.D., the director of corporate engagement and regional development for both the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, spoke about the many ways in which those schools have worked with other southeast Wisconsin post-secondary institution’s efforts in transforming their regions. Dr. Ruffolo also spoke of collaborative opportunities for higher education in the broader region spanning the area from Milwaukee to northwest Indiana. This tri-state area, subject of an unprecedented OECD study in 2011 sponsored by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration is seen as a high-potential mega-region if cooperation and coordination issues can be overcome.

Members of South Metropolitan Higher Education Consortium (SMHEC) include: DeVry University, Governors State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Joliet Junior College, Kankakee Community College, Lewis University, Moraine Valley Community College, Northwestern College, Prairie State College, Saint Xavier University, South Suburban College, and University of St. Francis. Dr. Bonnie Bondavalli, Lewis University Dean of the College Arts and Sciences, also participated in the meeting.

Lewis University is a Catholic university in the Lasallian tradition offering distinctive undergraduate and graduate programs to more than 6,500 traditional and adult students. Lewis offers multiple campus locations, online degree programs, and a variety of formats that provide accessibility and convenience to a growing student population. Sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis prepares intellectually engaged, ethically grounded, globally connected, and socially responsible graduates. The seventh largest private not-for-profit university in Illinois, Lewis has been nationally recognized by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report.

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