EDA University Center Issues Report on Economic Gardening in the State of Illinois

CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s EDA University Center, at EnterpriseWorks at the Research Park, published a report yesterday on how downstate Illinois communities are utilizing – and can continue to employ – economic development strategies that focus on enhancing and growing the existing assets of each community through economic gardening (entrepreneurship and innovation).

The report, authored by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Urban Planning Professor Marc Doussard, was supported with funding from the university’s EDA University Center.  The report points out successful examples of economic gardening strategies already happening in downstate communities, such as:

  • building up fermentation expertise and resources in Carbondale;
  • students gaining business experience by operating arts-based ventures in Decatur;
  • a partnership between a university medical system and local healthcare system that supports medical entrepreneurs in Peoria.

The report identifies further opportunities to leverage assets such as healthcare systems, agricultural resources, and an abundance of highly educated, experienced human capital.

“In our work with the University Center meeting with communities across downstate Illinois, we realized there was a need for incubator and entrepreneurship assistance along with “economic gardening” fundamentals to grow jobs and companies based on community assets and opportunities,” said Laura Frerichs, director of the University Center. “We worked with Professor Marc Doussard to develop strategies to help communities and assess the differing economic potential in downstate Illinois, and incorporate challenges and opportunities we experienced in regional economies.” 

Some of the report’s findings:

  • Whether entrepreneurs make software, whiskey or biomedical devices, most communities can support them by identifying ways to mitigate some of entrepreneurship’s basic and enduring challenges such as funding and risk. 
  • Most economic gardening strategies can be initiated quickly, simply and without extensive up-front costs.
  • Retirees, students and immigrants all stand out as under-realized sources for new businesses.

The full report is available online at https://go.illinois.edu/GrowOurOwnIL. A brief overview is also available from a June 23, 2020 slide presentation to the Annual EDA University Showcase of the EDA Chicago Regional University Centers.

The University of Illinois Economic Development Association (EDA) University Center exists to promote and foster entrepreneurship in Illinois south of Interstate 80. This program is supported by federal grant funding from the United States Economic Development Administration. For more information, please contact us at research-park@illinois.edu or 217-333-8324.