DEA Proposing Five-Year Economic Development Strategy

The Dwight Economic Alliance wants to plant the seedlings for future growth in town. And the DEA hopes to do it with a five-year project called Dwight C.A.R.E.S.

As an initial step, Deb Karch, economic development director for the DEA, will be meeting Thursday, Jan. 11, with 353 Court LLC of Pekin, a downtown revitalization company that acts as “entrepreneurial coaches” to help take downtown locations from “vacant to vibrant.”

She said this company came to Dwight last year and contacted her about doing a project in town.

She said they look at different communities and take on projects to revitalize the downtown area if the communities are willing. They have expertise in entrepreneurship and architecture to preserve historic structures.

For example, one small item that may be happening already is Dan Ribordy upgrading the Dwight Airport so that pilots can fuel up with credit card swipe options, helping to encourage more pilots to stop in Dwight.

She said that would be part of what she terms “hash tag destination Dwight.”

She mentioned that the Ambler/Becker Texaco Station sees 20,000 visitors a year, but there are no programs in place to keep those visitors in town to see the sites and shop the stores.

These projects as part of the DEA’s five-year plan, Dwight C.A.R.E.S., will be discussed at a strategy meeting of the DEA Board Jan. 22.

Dwight C.A.R.E.S. stands for Creativity, Attraction, Retention, Expansion and Sustainability.

But besides the literal meaning of the acronym, the name also relates to the “magic” of Dwight, she said.

She said as part of the Dwight community, Karch has learned that it is very caring and comes to the aid of those who need it when necessary.

“We have a community that’s 4,300 people and they raise more than $100,000 when someone needs a kidney, or a farmer needs help in harvesting his crops,” Karch said. “The outpouring of support that I’ve seen at a time when people need our community members, that is the community encircling someone who needs help. They just go and get it solved.”

One new challenge to be solved is the recent closure of the Country Mansion restaurant after 40 years in Dwight.

She said after news of the restaurant closure, people put online their memories at the restaurant where they were married, attended proms or other events.

She said Jack Oughton described Country Mansion operator Bob Ohlendorf as a “community father,” which in her mind described in two words how important Bob and his business have been to Dwight.

“You could feel the heartfelt appreciation,” Karch said of the comments about the restaurant.

She said the three main takeaways from seeing all those messages about the Country Mansion are:

1) Honor and respect the past and Dwight’s rich history.

2) Manage opportunities and face challenges.

3) Map out a strategy for the future.

“When I say ‘Dwight Cares’, that’s part of the magic of Dwight,” she added.

The C for creation of jobs means attracting, expanding and maintaining businesses in Dwight.

Attraction is not just tourism, but a way to bring new people to Dwight as permanent residents who will be looking at the community’s churches, parks, schools and organizations before choosing Dwight as their home.

The R and E for retention and expansion go together and make sure the community does not lose sight of economic development.

“We already have had amazing businesses that have made these rich investments in our community,” she said. “We’vegot to listen to them. You can’t use a cookie-cutter approach. What works for one may not work for another.”

The S for sustainability is also related to retention and expansion, as the changes have to be sustainable and the current businesses must also be able to thrive.

Karch said the introduction of the campaign will be Phase I of Dwight’s five-year strategic plan.
“The value-added I bring is to talk to the individual businesses, groups and organizations who need to tell me the good, the bad and the ugly,” Karch said. “I need to know what keeps them up at night.”

Once that information is gathered, the next step is to strategize solutions so everyone can rest easy, she said.