New marketing, economic development effort puts Q-C first

Originally Posted Online: July 23, 2009, 8:56 pm
Last Updated: July 23, 2009, 9:00 pm
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By Rita Pearson,
Calling it the start of a "new era," Quad-Cities business leaders Thursday unveiled a new public-private organization to direct economic development sales and marketing for the bi-state region.

"Quad Cities First" will replace the Quad City Development Group, a public-private partnership organization that, for more than 40 years, marketed the area to outside corporations.

The boards of the QCDG, the Illinois Quad City Chamber of Commerce and DavenportOne all approved the new marketing effort, said Augustana College President Steven Bahls who chairs the Illinois Quad City Chamber. The effort plans to increase accountability, reduce fragmentation and encourage cooperation among economic development players, Mr. Bahls told about 100 invited guests and media Thursday.

Before Quad Cities First was formed, the DavenportOne board reorganized as the Iowa Quad City Chamber of Commerce and took procedural steps that will lead to the merger of its staff, assets and work plan under the new banner over the next several months. The Bettendorf Chamber board also endorsed the new effort on July 17. Chairmen of both groups co-signed a letter of incorporation for the Iowa QC Chamber last Monday.

Although the Bettendorf Chamber board has endorsed both the Iowa Quad City Chamber and Quad Cities First, it has decided to remain a separate, autonomous chamber. Its three-member staff and volunteers still will provide its current member programs and services, said Bob Lundin, president and CEO.

Tara Barney, president and CEO of the new Iowa Quad City Chamber, and Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Illinois Quad City Chamber of Commerce, will co-manage Quad Cities First, which will focus entirely on outside regional sales and marketing, including Rock Island Arsenal marketing, using public and private funding. Its 17-member governing board will include 10 private-sector members and seven chosen by the cities Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline and Scott and Rock Island counties.

The Iowa and Illinois QC chambers still will provide programming and traditional chamber services to members. They also will coordinate efforts to govern and manage other regional economic activities through a Chamber Joint Venture that will deliver functions not handled by Quad Cities First, including work force development and business retention.

Details about the Chamber Joint Venture were not disclosed Thursday.

It has not been determined where Quad Cities First will be housed or how the two chambers will divide responsibilities. The two chamber co-managers will lead those decisions as well as one of its first tasks, creating a long-range plan, said Mr. Bahls and Michael Bauer, past chairman of DavenportOne. REDEEM, RENEW, DARI and other local private-sector, non-profit economic development groups members will be invited to help, Mr. Bahls said.

Although discussed as initial goals, Quad Cities First is not meant to save money or create another bureaucracy; a fact sheet Thursday stated cost savings was not the primary goal. Instead, the goal is for dues-paying member businesses to see "more bang for the buck" in regional sales and marketing efforts.

Creating the effort moved quickly, Mr. Bauer said, because the QCDG was running out of money. Joe Slavens, QCDG chairman, commended Quad City Development Group president and CEO Nancy Mulcahey for her openness and leadership during the past 18 months. She and her remaining staff will join Quad Cities First during the interim transition.

Staffing recommendations and decisions will be made by Mr. Baker and Ms. Barney. They will recommend a chief sales officer, but there will be no new CEO of Quad Cities First.

In August, the chambers expect to assume responsibility for all regional economic development activity of the group and staffing.

The new approach faces "two significant structural challenges," said John Gardner, a former development group president/CEO. The new chief of sales and marketing person will report to two bosses -- the two chamber CEOs -- who in turn answer to two boards of directors. "Having two bosses is not a recommended management practice," Mr. Gardner observed in a letter to the editor.

"For the sake of the Quad-Cities, I hope the new approach to economic development announced today proves workable," Mr. Gardner said.

The second challenge is state loyalties. The chambers marketing the Quad-Cities as one community must convince their states' economic development departments that potential prospects will be kept confidential.

That issue is not new, said QCDG chairman Joe Slavens. Iowa and Illinois economic development officials have been apprised of the organizational changes planned for the Quad-Cities region, and local officials appear pleased with the plan.

Jim Morgan of the Rock Island Arsenal Development Group doesn't expect any changes for his organization and its independent board of directors. Moline Mayor Don Welvaert said the effort will create a stronger bond and economic development effort in the Quad-Cities. And Coal Valley administrator Al Wilson said the unified effort will be good for his town. "We will either rise or fall together, but we'll support the new group."

John Wetzel, a retired economic developer for MidAmerican Energy who now helps the QCDG part time, said the effort marks the start of a new era. The real success, he said, will be in the details and how they line up with organizational goals.

He added that, while Quad Cities First may not be perfect, it is a natural evolution for local economic development. He was especially pleased that the Quad-Cities brand was retained in the new name, noting the Quad-Cities tag is a recognizable name among economic development professionals and corporate site selectors nationwide.

"So that brand is out there now, and that will give this new organization the laser focus they're talking about," he said.


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