Welcome to McLean County Illinois
In the wake of a nationwide economic slowdown several years ago, several key McLean County organizations joined forces to develop an economic strategy to strengthen and diversify the region’s economic climate for a successful future.
BN Advantage, as the initiative is now known, was created through a partnership of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, McLean County Regional Planning Commission, Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority. A short time later, Connect Transit joined the effort.
The initial five partners embarked on a Regional Economic Development Study in 2013 and after its completion in 2015, developed a Leadership Council, comprised of leaders from across all sectors of the community, and enlisted volunteers from 35 public and private organizations, businesses and institutions for five task forces to help with the initiative.
The task forces focus on: talent and workforce; entrepreneurship; quality of life; community brand development; and progress measurement.
“BN Advantage engages all segments,” said Crystal Howard, president and chief executive officer of the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “When we all are engaged and continue developing, it makes a better place to live and work and entice others to come.”
“We are well-positioned to do well,” said Zach Dietmeier, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, “We just needed a clear-cut plan to take tangible steps forward.”
Although still a young initiative, BN Advantage has made some tangible steps forward, including creating the BN Advantage branding and a new website, BNAdvantage.com.
BN Advantage banners will be visible in Uptown Normal and Downtown Bloomington and the logo will appear on Connect Transit buses, Howard said.
The website, which includes stories about the life in the community as well as thumbnail sketches of the education, businesses and amenities in the area, is “a chance to showcase our accomplishments not only to the outside world, but our community,” Dietmeier said.
The initiative also has brought a new collaboration between the McLean County Regional Planning Commission and Connect Transit, which operates the Twin Cities’ bus service.
Isaac Thorne, general manager of Connect Transit, said MCRPC is helping Connect Transit develop a short-range transportation plan that will help determine which way to grow and ways to provide service to new areas.
The overall partnership of BN Advantage also has been a huge benefit of the initiative, the partners agree.
“In my opinion, neither public nor private sectors can do it alone,” said Carl Olson, executive director of the Central Illinois Regional Airport which is owned and operated by the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority. “It needs to be a partnership. BN Advantage helps facilitate that.”
Olson said a stronger community enhances business opportunities which, in turn, help the airport attract more air options and more competitive airfares.
“That equals a more vibrant community,” he said.
The McLean County Regional Planning Commission is in charge of gathering and tracking hundreds of key economic indicators to measure the region’s economy over time, which will ultimately show the success of the initiative.
“It’s a huge effort that’s going to take time to show real results,” said Vasudha Gadhiraju, executive director of MCRPC. “However, I see a lot of soft things already happening. The partnerships really help enhance the plan. Constantly talking helps us plan. It builds relationships.”