University News

WIU Students, Macomb Chamber Benefit from Graduate Econ Course in Small Community Development

December 19, 2012

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MACOMB, IL — Graduate students and the Macomb Chamber of Commerce recently benefitted from a course offered through Western Illinois University. Students enrolled in Economics 535, "Small Community Development," are offered an opportunity to work on projects requested by city planners, providing participants firsthand experience with "working world" collaboration, according to Economics Professor John Gruidl, who also serves in the University's Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs.

The students work with Gruidl to produce results that are studied, considered and often implemented by communities that are searching for ways to improve and expand.

"We completed the project on behalf of the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce & Downtown Development Corporation, with the cooperation of Penny Lawyer, president, and Sarah Wallick, outreach coordinator," he said.

As they shared survey results gathered from participating Macomb area business owners, students discussed their recommendations, insights and conclusions. Survey participants offered their views on challenges and ideas for new businesses in the community, as well as made suggestions for Macomb's Chamber to consider. Recommendations for consideration included providing networking space for people to share business ideas, which could encompass both physical space, such as a group meeting or bulletin board, and virtual space offering an online bulletin board, chat room, or electronic discussion list.

"I took a lot of notes and look forward to looking in more depth at the materials presented to us," Lawyer stated. "I think they gave a lot of good ideas. We want WIU grads to be entrepreneurs, as they know what Macomb lacks," she explained. "They could identify what sorts of niche businesses to start, and with unemployment issues, new grads are the ones starting up businesses now. We would also like to see a succession plan for those who are already in business and planning to retire."

Beginning each fall semester, Gruidl seeks cooperation from nearby communities to engage his students in a meaningful project.

"We work with a community that has expressed a need for information or help with a project they are working on. This gives the students an opportunity to understand what some of the issues are that communities are struggling with, as well as learn about the best ways to improve the community," he said.

Many of the presenters' involvement with the community extends beyond this course, which is required for those completing their graduate degrees through the Peace Corps Fellows program, Gruidl noted. Those also completing internships in the community are Terry Daugherty, who has been working with Macomb's building and zoning office to complete community-development projects, while also completing research for the City Attorney's Office. Kara Garten is assigned to the McDonough County Red Cross, to improve emergency management relief, and John Ceglarek has been developing education programs for school-aged children through the Western Illinois Museum, as well as providing program outreach to the community. Brittany Rhodes is facilitating focus groups and acting as an advisor to Saudi Women through the Western's English as a Second Language (WESL) program. Other students who participated and contributed to the project include, Becky Moss, Alyssa Wolf and Matthew Wolf.

"Giving students an opportunity to do a hands-on project helps them to learn so much more than they ever could from a textbook and classroom setting alone," Gruidl said.

The coursework emphasizes gaining practical knowledge necessary to address non-metropolitan development issues, as well as understanding economic trends, available federal and state economic development resources, and recognizing problems and opportunities in small community development.

To learn more about this graduate coursework and conducting hands-on project opportunities, contact Gruidl at

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