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B2W Radio - The Interconnectedness of Business and Education

B2W Radio - The Interconnectedness of Business and Education

Rick Stephens
Elane V. Scott
Featured Guests:
Lou Mervis
Jeff Mays

Dear Valued Stakeholder,

This week the leaders of Vermilion County, Illinois will post some economic gain in a marketplace where thousands upon thousands are showing decline. Why? Listen to the program today as we talk with two more people from Vermilion County about their views of the shift in thinking and work that began there over ten years ago. At that time the region was struggling with 20% unemployment, long-time big industries had closed down, and the people of this county were going through their own recession while the rest of the country was enjoying unparalleled prosperity. Today, the tables are turned.

Meet Lou Mervis, former Chairman of the Illinois State School Board, and Jeff Mays, a former Illinois State Legislator, who brought their best talents and skills home to help. We heard last week from Vicki Haugen, Vermilion Advantage CEO and President, about the visioning and facilitation she has been part of since Vermilion County leaders took on the challenge of rebuilding a future for their county after some devastating economic losses. This week we thought it would be helpful to bring in another perspective on the same process. Jeff and Lou, with me and co-host Rick Stephens, follow the thread of business involvement and engagement of leaders in local education in the last 25 years.

What they saw happening was the difficulty independent businesses had in making a go of it once the larger industries they worked with left the area. Local businesses began merging with companies from outside their area to make up for it. The result was that the new CEOs and other major figures of the business community were no longer living in the towns in which their businesses were based, and so those leaders didn’t have the same stake in the health of the town’s educational system or workforce. Further, local Vermilion County issues didn’t impact many of them at a personal level because their kids didn’t go to school there or look for jobs within in the area. What used to be a given, that the president of the local mill would also serve on the local school board, was no longer true. Simultaneously, workers in the industry-based towns had in mind that with a “strong back and a will to work,” a person could make a good living, and that education was of secondary importance. Eventually, of course, those jobs were either automated for machine processing or they were outsourced to another country, but employees with that earlier mindset stayed on, making transitions to new jobs tougher. Local businesses and business leaders also surrendered involvement when state mandates, incongruous with local needs, started being made. Business leaders threw up their hands, and asked “Why bother?”

Of course hindsight is always 20/20. We can see now what factors were at play that led up to the more recent state of distress in these communities (like hundreds of others are in this country). Today, after more than ten years of focused effort, including multitudes of initiatives and countless programs, Vermilion County leaders from all economic sectors are aligning around common language and a shared set of values established by the community’s stakeholder leaders. (Beyond an agreement to speak English, alignment of language means answering the question “What do WE mean when we say X?” See our website for a posted list of leadership definitions that we hope will help our listeners and visitors align with us in language.) Vermilion leaders continue to refine and work their plan so that generations to come can keep Vermilion County and its people working and looking toward the future. That is why today Vermilion County is posting an economic gain when others are not.

Elane V. Scott

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