Pavilion in a rural park
Rural Vitality in Northern and Central Illinois

 Mark C. White, Ph.D., Clinical Associate Professor with the University of Illinois has just released a paper on  Rural Vitality in Northern and Central Illinois

Rural communities in northern and central Illinois face many challenges—out-migration, an aging population, an over-reliance on large employers—but just because these rural communities are changing, does not mean that they are withering. While the pandemic created many challenges for rural communities, it also led to a renewed interest in entrepreneurship and greater opportunities for remote work. Using focus groups, individual interviews, and a survey of community leaders, this project sought to better understand the most pressing issues and challenges currently facing rural communities throughout northern and central Illinois. The resulting report highlights what those community leaders think about the issues that most affect their community’s overall vitality. 

People holding up signs "we are no longer a food desert"
Rise Community Market

The new Rise Community Market is an inviting, accessible, and co-operatively owned grocery store in Cairo, which celebrated its grand opening with a special event that honored this uncommon partnership of local leaders, shareholders, volunteers, granting organizations (including the University of Illinois Foundation; Illinois Restore, Reinvest, and Renew (R3); and Builder’s Initiative), Western Illinois University’s Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, the UI System’s Illinois Innovation Network, and University of Illinois Extension’s SNAP-Ed program.

Cairo, and other communities that face food scarcity represent a national trend where decreasing population densities, income inequality, and transportation challenges, lead to low-access to quality nutrition. Extension Educator, John Shadowens has been a collaborator throughout the evolution of the project...more

Capitol building
Local Government Education

Illinois Extension's Local Government Education (LGE) programs help communities build capacity for innovative and informed decision-making to enhance quality of life for residents. LGE webinars help officials and community leaders stay informed of policy issues and emerging trends, and ways to effectively serve their communities. Webinars are offered at no cost, are widely accessible, and can be viewed on-demand. In 2023, 72 educational sessions and webinars were produced, reaching over 10,000 professionals across all 102 counties in Illinois. Various program outcomes from these efforts resulted in increasing community involvement and leadership, promoting equity, enhancing economic investment, and supporting community resiliency. When leaders improve their own competencies and effectiveness, they have the potential to positively influence the lives of entire communities and regions. Nancy Ouedraogo, Extension Specialist, said on average, over 90% of poll-takers during these sessions reported improved knowledge on various topics in local government and community and economic development.

Wind turbines
Communities Transitioning from Coal Powered Utility Plants

Extension convened conversations to explore how communities can manage when coal powered utilities are decommissioned. Working with local government stakeholders, Extension created a matrix that outlines community recommendations, precedence from other states, and Illinois proposed legislation around four key areas of concern – assessment and taxes; displaced workers; redevelopment considerations and incentives; and environmental impact. This summary has been shared with state legislators, state agencies and with the Illinois Governor and his staff.  For more information contact Lisa Merrifield, State Extension Specialist.

People working together
Mercer County Better Together

The community planning process for Mercer County, Illinois started in 2015, and was guided by University of Illinois Extension.  The focus was on civic engagement and organizational development. Throughout the county, Extension worked with community organizations to host eleven community forums, with nearly 800 county residents attending. Community volunteers helped facilitate meetings, raise funds, promote the process, analyze data, and collect stories from residents about their history in Mercer County. They also connected with residents through online surveys, a Facebook page, and a new website. Through these efforts, residents shared their perspectives on potential projects, strategies and goals that Mercer County: Better Together could pursue. Watch how Mercer County is better together. Connect with Russell Medley for more information.

Fireworks over music festival - Greenville Illinois
Developing a Creative Economy

Developing the Creative Economy was designed for community leaders and economic development professionals who want to tap into the creative talent in their communities to build viable businesses, adding to household income for the entrepreneur and increasing economic activity in the community. The program helps community leaders expand economic and entrepreneurial activity by developing a culture that appreciates and supports the creative talents of residents, including those living in low-resource households. Creative entrepreneurs include artists, designers, musicians, boutique retailers, specialty food producers and other creative enterprises. Connect with Extension Specialist Pam Schallhorn for more information.

Children playing rope tug
Economic Impact of Agricultural Fairs

Extension worked with the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs to conduct a study of the economic impact of county agricultural fairs. The study surveyed nearly 5,000 fair attendees across the state, conducted 33 key informant interviews, and reports that $170M was spent as a result of the 104 fairs in Illinois. $90 million of these transactions occurred directly in the state economy, demonstrating the significant impact of fairs on local communities. Connect with Zach Kennedy for more information.

Woman in front of her coffee shop
Retail Leakage Study and Buy Local Program

University of Illinois Extension partnered with area high schools in Southern Illinois on an initiative aimed at helping our next generation of community leaders understand the correlation between spending money locally and the sustainability of their local economies. Connect with Susan Odum for more information.

Orange open sign
Fast Pitch Competition to Support Small Business Development

University of Illinois Extension & the Small Business Development Center at Black Hawk College organized the Henry and Stark Counties Fast Pitch Competition. Results included seven businesses receiving business consultation, six new start-ups initiated, three new business loans, and 10 jobs created or retained. Connect with Russell Medley for more information.