Thursday, November 15, 2007

Braggin' on my Hometown/County!

This week I’ve been highlighting some of the wonderful attributes of where I was born in Teutopolis, IL (population 1,559) and now live in Effingham, IL (population 12,384), both in Effingham County (population 34,264). Today I’m going to brag a bit on some of the great things going on in our rural county.

This past weekend I attended the grand opening for the Rosebud Theater, a brand new 1,600 seat performing arts center that was built completely with private funds. Local entrepreneur Martin Hubbard started working on a vision he had for this center almost four years ago. At the time he was the restaurant manager at a local Petro Truckstop but continued to pound home the point of, “I can’t tell you how many times I have truck drivers who ask me what there is to do in Effingham.”

Martin put together a business plan and raised almost $2 million in equity from 40 other local entrepreneurs, $4 million from local banks and a promise of $1.2 million in marketing funds from the city’s hotel/motel funds. He also pre-sold over $1 million in season tickets and ticket commitments from mostly local companies and individuals. The community really pulled together on this project.

Over the next nine months we are going to have approximately 60 acts like the Oak Ridge Boys, Bill Cosby, Green Day, Marie Osmond, B. B. King, and many other well known names.

Before the grand opening we ate dinner at The Firefly Grill, an upscale restaurant that you won’t find in most towns the size of Effingham. This two year old restaurant began as the dream of Kristie and Niall Campbell, a young couple with ties to the area but who were living in San Francisco where Niall was a chef at some well-known restaurants. They also developed a business plan, sold it to 20 local entrepreneurs who agreed to fund the Campbell’s dream. Today the restaurant is packed most weekends with customers driving from as far as 100 miles to eat in a gourmet place. Firefly has been featured in several food magazines and has been interviewed for a feature in Gourmet Magazine in February.

The City of Effingham recently announced plans to proceed with a $10 million+ Sports Center that they have been working on for the past five years. The facility will include a hockey rink, competitive 8-lane swimming pool, running track, recreational pool and about a dozen basketball/volleyball courts. Funded wholly from hotel/motel funds and TIF, the project is projected to bring in competitive teams from around the Midwest for competitive sports competitions.

Because of the concerns that the Sports Center might operate at a deficit for a couple of years, the local Effingham County Foundation (set up in 1999) is in the process of funding a $3+ million endowment fund, earnings from which will fund any shortfall. Approximately $2 million of the $3 million is already committed, again mostly from local entrepreneurs.

My final brag is being driven by my neighbor Frank Brummer, who recently sold Farmweld, a hog equipment manufacturer. Frank is an avid biker and last year took on the challenge of developing a county wide bike/hiking trail throughout the county. He is in securing grants and donations and is about to build the first leg of the multi-mile system.

Quite a bit to be proud of? You betcha! Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the commonalities of all of these projects and why your town should be doing something similar.

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