Everyone needs to pitch in to save Galesburg


by Mike Kroll and Norm Winick

Wake up Galesburg! Whimpering and whining accomplishes nothing. Our economic problems are not going to solve themselves and there is no white knight galloping to the rescue. We need to begin looking to ourselves for solutions and either save this town or go down trying.

The Galesburg area is fast approaching a crisis of our own making while those we trust to lead us don’t seem to learn from past mistakes and failures. The loss of Maytag and Butler are hitting this community hard but our failure to respond in new and creative ways only exacerbates the problem.

As you talk to your friends, neighbors, or relatives about the state of Galesburg, you can see the resignation in their eyes. Too many seem to have given up or are devoting their energies to wallowing in self-pity. Such an approach is typified by Register-Mail editorials moaning and groaning about how bad things have gotten while whining fatalistically about how we are due some good news. This tact merely fuels the downward spiral and virtually assures a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Zephyr may be just a small weekly newspaper but we have never been accused of being passive. Those of us who contribute to this paper do so as a labor of love that persists despite few resources and tall odds — Perfect training for apprentice economic development types.

For years, we have frequently been critical of the "official" approach toward economic development. These criticisms go beyond the quarter century plus of minimal accomplishments by the "professionals" at the Chamber of Commerce, Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association (GREDA) or its predecessor. They extend to the passivity of many of our local elected officials who seem only to shovel heaps of remorse upon bad news while squandering resources to fund the misadventures of GREDA, the EDC, and the Chamber.

We haven’t merely been critical, however. We have on a number of occasions offered our own ideas and suggestions only to see them immediately dismissed or ignored because they either ran counter to the accepted wisdom and traditions or because they originated in this newspaper. If it weren’t such a serious topic it would almost be comical. But quite serious it has now become.

We’re going to try to make a difference once more.

The Zephyr will attempt to become an active participant and cheerleader in rebuilding the Galesburg area.

We invite our readers to join with us in working directly to try to improve the local economy rather than waiting for others to do so for us. The task requires that we retain no more sacred cows, that we worship no more false prophets, that we apply our personal backs and brains toward fixing Galesburg before it’s too late. This area needs jobs — but more than that, we need to remake this community into one that will be attractive and economically viable for the best and brightest of our children to return to raise their families.

We can begin by casting aside some erroneous assumptions that have been too long held. The time has come to nurture new ideas, even crazy ones, and foster brainstorming by the width and breadth of this community.

Myth number one: economic development is a job for the professionals. Don’t wait to read about it; get personally involved. Use your personal contacts. Talk to friends, family and colleagues about Galesburg. Volunteer your ideas to us or let us know if you have a contact somewhere who may be useful. We will see to it that they are passed on to the appropriate folks and follow up to insure that that the ball is not dropped. If you’ve already made a suggestion that was apparently ignored, tell us. We’ll try to follow up.

Myth number two: economic development efforts must be secretive. This myth has shielded the "professionals" from being held accountable for far too long. While discretion is important at various points in the process, at some point the need for secrecy ends as business leads either pan out or fizzle out. A thorough post-mortem analysis is necessary when we fail so we may learn from our experiences.

Myth number three: the fate of Galesburg rests on replacing lost manufacturing jobs. Our professionals seem to have focused almost entirely on finding industrial entities to move here — without success. The time has come to recognize that few such opportunities exist (we’re not alone in losing our manufacturing jobs to Mexico or China or Korea.) and the likelihood of successfully attracting one is minute. The economic future of Galesburg rests upon a more diversified economy that balances blue and white collar jobs and nurtures a multitude of smaller employers.

Galesburg needs to attract white collar jobs and nurture the expansion of those that already exist. There is no reason this area cannot be home to any number of service sector, back office or management campuses. We already are home to successful entrepreneurs who should be invited into the tent and asked to participate in the economic rebuilding of Galesburg.

For example, we should be speaking with Community Health Systems, the new owners of Cottage Hospital, about what could be done to help them become a bigger regional healthcare draw.

Myth number four: economic development amounts to seducing companies to move to Galesburg. We’ve tried this without success or worse. Do we really want businesses that only come because we bribe them? Longterm success will only come from growing a community where businesses want to be. We need to focus on our real strengths while acknowledging our weaknesses.

Galesburg sits in the midst of the richest agricultural land in America and we should be able to parlay this into good economic fortune. We should think about developing new profitable uses for corn and soybeans or introduce new crops that will simultaneously support both area farmers and create opportunities for processing and marketing the crops. The economics of ethanol may finally make sense with higher gas prices but perhaps we should be bolder and look toward alcohol as a gasoline replacement rather and a supplement. The technology already exists and has been proven elsewhere.

Final myth: it’s already too late, Galesburg’s goose is already cooked. Haven’t we heard that one before? The time for realistic cheerleadering is upon us. There are plenty of other communities in comparable or worse position to Galesburg. We should welcome outside help but not count on it. We must become self-reliant and willing to stray from the comfortable path. We must work together as a community to promote a better Galesburg. It would be irresponsible to do anything else.

We at the Zephyr ask that you join with us and participate in the process.