Mentesti: GREDF partners have eye on big picture

Former Great River Economic Development Foundation president Jim Mentesti photographed in his GREDF office inside the Oakley-Lindsay Center. Mentesti, who retired last fall after nearly 27 years as president of the organization and has been working as a c
Posted: Jan. 5, 2013 5:18 pm Updated: Jan. 19, 2013 8:15 pm

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

When Jim Mentesti gets his moment in the spotlight at the Great River Economic Development Foundationn annual meeting this week, he won't have time to say much about "the big picture" of economic development in Quincy.

Then again, he won't have to because he believes many of the people gathered at the Oakley-Lindsay Center not only see the big picture -- they're little parts of the system creating that picture.

It's sort of like a big screen TV. It takes lots of little pixels to create a bright, vibrant picture.

"We couldn't have been successful if we hadn't brought all these elements together. It takes ... partnerships and teamwork and quality of life" and a whole lot of positive influences, Mentesti said.

Mentesti retired last fall after nearly 27 years as president of GREDF and has been working since then as a consultant with interim President Phil Conover. Mentesti has presided over previous GREDF annual meetings. This week he'll be honored during part of the program.

"I'm told I've got 90 seconds to say something. I can't start naming names," Mentesti said.

The big picture didn't always look so bright for local economic development.

GREDF was formed in 1978, merging with the Joint Industrial Development Commission, when the community was still reeling from the departure of Motorola and other major employers. The community had lost 5,000 jobs in a short amount of time. The Great River Development Foundation, without the word "economic" in its title, had previously helped raise money for the Edward Schneidman Industrial Park as a means of attracting new employers or local expansions.

Those kinds of efforts are the bread and butter of economic development agencies. But they don't tell the whole story, Mentesti said.

Lots of people thought Mentesti's main job was to recruit new employers, such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which brought more than 100 jobs to town in the late 1980s and now has about 700 employees.

Mentesti said retention -- working with local employers to grow and add new jobs -- is a bigger part of economic development. In Quincy, part of the retention and job creation effort has been tackled by partners such as John Wood Community College, which operates the Workforce Development Center. The facility at 42nd and Koch's Lane, teaches skills needed by local manufacturers, trucking firms and other employers.

Plentiful transportation options have boosted the local jobs picture as well. Highways, commuter flights to St. Louis, Amtrak connections to Chicago, freight rail and river shipping all connect the region with world markets.

Quality of life issues are another part of the big picture. An extensive Quincy Park District, quality educational institutions, health care systems, retail operations and arts agencies help sell the community to relocating businesses and help keep the employers who already are here, Mentesti said.

All of those successes have given Quincy, Adams County and the surrounding region a momentum that leads to more successes.

"That's what keeps Adams County second in the state for (low) unemployment," Mentesti said.

Connie Schroeder, vice president of innovation and integration at Blessing Corporate Services and immediate past president of the GREDF Board, agrees that partnerships are the key.

"It is the public/private partnerships that help GREDF do its job. The city, the county and businesses work together," Schroeder said.

"One of our best partnerships is with the Workforce Investment Board and the local educational institutions who have been creating classes to provide workers with the skills needed by local employers."

Local cooperation efforts worked so well that the Tri-State Development Summit was founded in 1996 to foster cooperation across state lines, between Western Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa.

"The Tri-State Summit is finding ways to bring together not only the business and economic development leaders, but the political leaders," Schroeder said.

Mentesti said the transition from GREDF president to consultant has him making plans for retirement. He wants to volunteer for quality of life efforts that add extra glitter to the Gem City and surrounding area.

"We've got so many things with the university, the hospital, the park district, the riverfront and Cedar Creek Linear Park. I'd love to see them resurrect the First Tee program," Mentesti said.