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Grant lays out economic recovery plan for Monmouth

The Research in Illinois to Spur Economic Recovery grant provided the city a plan to promote economic recovery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the ways Monmouth can recover from the COVID-19 pandemic is to hire a full-time economic development professional.

That’s according to the findings of a Research in Illinois to Spur Economic Recovery grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The grant provided the city with a plan to promote economic recovery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The top priority outlined by the grant is to determine and establish a preferred model for economic development.

City administrator Lew Steinbrecher told TSPR those efforts are underway.

The city of Monmouth, Warren County, and the Maple City Area Partnership are co-funding a position that would lead economic development efforts county-wide – and run the Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We felt that by joining our resources we would have a better chance of attracting a more qualified field of candidates given a higher expected salary range,” Steinbrecher said.

Steinbrecher said they hope to have that position filled by early next year.

Economic analysis
Unemployment rates in Monmouth recovered to pre-pandemic levels by 2022, according to the RISE grant executive summary.

The greater impacts of the pandemic on the Monmouth community were disruptions in agriculture and food supply and heavier strains on healthcare and social services.

Likewise, the research showed Monmouth ahead of the curve on income and earnings, but needing attention in housing affordability and educational attainment.

Employment in Monmouth is largely focused on manufacturing, which is a key driver of the local economy.

But the RISE research suggested employment may need to be diversified to get through economic downturns.

Fostering inclusion
Monmouth’s population declined in the last census, but not as much as other communities in the region.

That’s in part due because of a growing immigrant population, many of whom work at the Smithfield Foods plant in town.

Finding ways to foster integration and celebrate Monmouth’s diversity is another priority.

The RISE executive summary recommends establishing a “convener” in the community to help encourage inclusion of immigrant communities through cultural activities, leadership development and official representation on committees.

Growth needs
Other priorities highlighted by the RISE grant are enhancing downtown and curb appeal to make Monmouth a destination -- and addressing “growth needs” like water infrastructure and housing.

Steinbrecher said there’s clearly a need for more housing in Monmouth.

“Just based on the people that commute from the Quad Cities, Peoria, and Burlington for jobs at Smithfield. If we can build more housing, we will attract more people to live in the community,” he said.

Steinbrecher said the recent Monmouth Townhomes development is a good example of the housing issue, where the 44 available units were filled immediately.

Now the city plans to work with a developer to transform the county annex building downtown into apartments.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson is TSPR's regional reporter.