Small Town, Big Opportunities

Growth Dimensions Economic Development Belvidere-Boone County, IL
Written by Mark Golombek

Growth Dimensions was established in 1979 as a means to progressively and cooperatively improve the quality of life and advance the economic strength and prosperity of Belvidere-Boone County. It aimed to create an environment that fosters both economic opportunity and growth to take advantage of and market the area’s natural assets, while supporting business expansion, retention, and attraction.
Working together with local, regional, and state partners and stakeholders, Growth Dimensions has adopted a coordinated economic development strategy to create jobs, promote community assets, and stimulate investment opportunities for new and existing businesses. The achievements improve the community’s wellbeing in the process.

Belvidere-Boone County has been the fifth-fastest-growing county in the state of Illinois since 2000. This rapidly expanding community is strategically located along the I-90 regional city corridor, just seventy-five miles of downtown Chicago. Belvidere is the county seat of Boone County which is considered a part of the Rockford Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

The Kishwaukee River, one of the few Class A rivers in Illinois, runs directly through Belvidere. The river provides a picturesque backdrop for a growing economy, a strong agricultural base, and a community that boasts a great quality of life and a promising future.

The economy of Belvidere-Boone County significantly benefits from the area’s labor force, strong logistics, robust infrastructure, and its pro-business environment. Growth Dimensions provides the tools and resources – such as workforce development – that are necessary for the business community to ensure local and regional economic success.

“We’re in our thirty-sixth year now, which is pretty old for an EDC’s sake,” stated Jarid Funderburg, executive director with Growth Dimensions. In those thirty-six years, Growth Dimensions has helped a number of local businesses and international companies who call Belvidere-Boone County home. It has overcome the challenges that have presented themselves, provided incentives, and streamlined processes.

As it embraces the new direction being taken by the state through the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Growth Dimensions has experienced a number of early positive indicators, signaling what is sure to be a new wave of growth as the result of its collaborative approach to economic development.

One of the companies that have experienced expansion, a testament to the efforts of Growth Dimensions, is Fiat Chrysler whose automobile assembly plant in Belvidere has undergone significant expansion over its thirty years there. It has now added its own stamping plant to the facilities where the Jeep Patriot, Jeep Compass, and Dodge Dart are made.

Through ongoing research and outreach, Growth Dimensions’ coordinated efforts are paying off. It has set its sights on targeted industries that will complement the existing businesses and industries. One specific example is the automotive industry, whose supply chain moved in around the Fiat Chrysler plant in order to better support those operations.

Subsequently, other industrial parks have also sprung up in this area, participating in product development activities. Some of these are in defense, some in retail display, and others support the rail industry in the region. The workforce in Belvidere-Boone County is suited to a variety of advanced manufacturing operations and is credited for their work ethic, experience, and diversity.

Belvidere-Boone County has a strong agricultural presence with both traditional crops and niche agricultural activities. “A lot of smaller niche farming to satisfy the growing trend of organic use in restaurants,” Funderburg said. The county is also home to a vibrant food processing sector, and General Mills has plans to expand its dry cereal lines here,

Belvidere-Boone County is part of Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) #176, an important economic development tool for the region. It is also home to the Belvidere-Boone County Enterprise Zone and the various incentives and benefits associated with this designation, intended to stimulate economic activity and neighborhood revitalization.

“Over the last century or so, we’ve really transformed into quite an economic opportunity for business growth, expansion and attraction, and a lot of it has to do with Interstate 90 coming out of Chicago that goes right through Belvidere, passing along Rockford and up into Wisconsin,” explained Funderburg. Belvidere-Boone County is only hours from Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and St. Louis.

Although the population in the county is up to 54,000 from 30,806 in 1990, its regional city (a region anchored by Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and Rockford) constitutes the fourth largest urban constellation in the U.S. and is home to seventeen million people.

Being strategically located in relation to expansive markets for goods, services, and suppliers makes Belvidere-Boone County an ideal location for a number of industries. Its location gives it access to primary and secondary labor markets, major employment centers, transportation networks, and competitive electricity and water rates.

Belvidere-Boone County also connects to markets via I-39 and I-90 and is in proximity to I-43 and I-88. The region also has a nearby transport network and is located only an hour away from O’Hare International Airport and an hour and a half from Chicago Midway and General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Of great significance to its economic success, Belvidere-Boone County is located just fifteen minutes of the Chicago-Rockford Airport which is home to the largest regional parcel-sorting facility in the UPS System and the only facility of its kind that handles coast-to-coast cargo. It ranks as the twenty-fourth largest cargo airport and the 224th largest passenger airport in the United States.

Many industrial sites in Belvidere-Boone County have access to Union Pacific rail, with some located only thirty miles from the new Union Pacific Global III Intermodal Facility. When combined with the fact that water is readily available, water rates are within the lowest twenty-five percent of the state, and electric rates are some of the lowest in the country, this makes it a great place to live, work and invest.

Many of the other two hundred acres of shovel-ready sites available are located along I-90, meaning Belvidere-Boone County can meet a diverse range of commercial and industry needs. “Some of the parcels are bigger and can be divided down, anywhere from one hundred acres down to thirty acres. We have a number of sites that are ready to go, anywhere from five to ten acres,” Funderburg said.

With the investments being made in the Irene Road Interchange on I-90, there is the potential to open hundreds more acres for different types of mixed-use commercial and industrial development.

Growth Dimensions, taking a regional economic development approach, facilitates a high level of cooperation and collaboration to achieve its economic and social development goals. Utilizing what is referred to as a regional planning council (RPC), development corporations, municipalities, counties, and economic organizations can use resources and technical services to address economic concerns.

Acting as what Funderburg referred to as the “nerve center of the region”, the RPC will bring a number of counties under one economic development umbrella. “We’ll have regional planning for infrastructure, the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization), the economic development district that handles grants and technical writing, mapping through the GIS system (geographic information system).” All of these things will play a role in the collective success of the region.

“When we need to have questions answered on all kinds of requests for international or national companies looking at our area, we are able to answer those questions much quicker and be able to get back to them within a day, if not a day and a half, so we’re not spending a week of man hours ourselves doing that,” explained Funderburg, whose office functions with minimal human resources.

The participating regional counties will rely on the RPC to funnel projects that come into the region from various development streams: states, site selectors, companies themselves. By streamlining the process, it will provide ease of access to what is available in the region, and identify which areas are best suited to site-specific investments.

“I think one of the things that are amazing about our community is our size. We do have great industrial, but with the communication with city council, the county board, and the school districts, we are able to react quickly to changes in all different typed of situations,” Funderburg said.

This strong communication enabled the local school district to quickly capitalize on the STEM academy when it was proposed, and it has become a tremendous asset to the community as a result. “There is a waiting list to get into the STEM academy,” Funderburg explained. The only one in the region and one of a handful in the state, the STEM academy is a great educational opportunity.

In addition to the great schools and bounty of economic opportunities, Belvidere-Boone County boasts a great quality of life, affordable housing, a beautiful countryside and agricultural opportunities. Its markets and events create a vibrant community and local culture, contributing to the community’s prosperity and wellbeing as the direct result of economic development and success.

Moving forward, Growth Dimensions intends to become much more visible and develop strong partnerships as it grows. It will continue to identify and target companies that want to be a part of the community in the future, market its assets, and make its reputation known for being a great place to live, work, and do business.



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