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Springfield to receive federal economic planning grant; Decatur named a finalist

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NPR Illinois

Springfield will be one of 24 communities to receive a Strategy Development Grant for planning toward projects that spur economic activity. It’s part of the ReCompete Program through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. Grants are awarded in what are considered “geographically diverse and persistently distressed communities” across the country. 

The agency received over 560 applications.

Led by Sai Joshi, Bloomberg-Harvard Fellow at the City, Springfield submitted an application in October 2023 and was notified of their selection Wednesday. The project titled Springfield Economic Empowerment Project (SEEP) is a public, institutional, and philanthropic alliance that includes local partners like Lincoln-Land Community College, The Springfield Project, Springfield-Sangamon Growth Alliance, and the Community Foundation.

“SEEP aims to revitalize Springfield’s socio-economic fabric, prioritizing historically underrepresented communities. At the project proposal’s core is the expansion of successful training initiatives, including Lincoln-Land’s Workforce Equity Initiative and the Highway Construction Careers Training Program, providing free education programs to facilitate high-wage employment,” the City said in a statement.

The $450,000 additional planning dollars will help Springfield further develop its proposal. Springfield's 23.8% concentrated poverty rate is the highest of any of the 10 metropolitan areas in the state.

“Augmenting this effort, are programs like Innovate Springfield by the University of Illinois Springfield, cultivating diverse entrepreneurial ventures, and the Summer Youth Initiative by the Springfield Project, which offers the dual benefit of skill-building and wage-earning to young aspirants. Collaborative outreach with partners, including South Illinois University Medicine (SIU Medicine), showcases SEEP’s comprehensive lens, from economic upliftment to wraparound healthcare and childcare services support.” 

“As the capital city of Illinois, the City of Springfield is committed to championing efforts to improve the economic mobility of our distressed communities. Our public, institutional, and philanthropic partners’ coalition has been leading the way to bridge economic gaps holistically,” said Mayor Misty Buscher. “The ReCompete Program funding will elevate our efforts to revitalize Springfield’s socio-economic fabric. The Springfield Economic Empowerment Project stands as a symbol of Springfield’s unwavering commitment to inclusive growth. We are excited to hit the ground running!”

“Springfield's success in securing the Strategy Development ReCompete Grant represents a pivotal step toward addressing enduring economic challenges within our city. With the EDA's investment bolstering our collective efforts, we're poised to reshape Springfield's economic landscape, fostering inclusive growth, nurturing new businesses, and ensuring equitable opportunities for every member of our community to thrive,” said Abby Powell, Director of Business Development at the Springfield-Sangamon Growth Alliance.

This announcement means new resources dedicated to creating a workforce development strategy to spur economic growth in the parts of our community that have been left behind for too long,” stated Congresswoman Nikki Budzinski. 

Also, Decatur has been named one of 22 finalists for funding. Led by Richland Community College, the Decatur proposal seeks to scale theEnRICH training model to prepare workers for manufacturing job opportunities in the emerging electric vehicle and precision fermentation sectors. Awards will be an average of $20 million to$50 million. 

"We realize success by combining our strengths and forming deliberate, collaborative approaches to address our community’s challenges. An incredible amount of coordination between these four agencies was put forth for the first phase of this application process. With Recompete Plan Approval, now we are eligible to apply for an infusion of $20 to $50 million into our community to not only address but also prevent our persistent Prime Age Employment Gap." said Nicole Bateman, President of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur-Macon County. 

“By strategically investing in these areas, we not only breathe new life into local economies, but also forge pathways to quality employment, fostering a brighter future for the residents who call Springfield and Decatur home,” U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said.

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