The Mercer County Board is calling on residents from every corner of this southwestern Quad Cities county to celebrate what the community has to offer and to share their ideas for how to make it better.
The event, headlined “Honoring Our History, Anticipating Our Future,” is hosted by the Mercer County Board. It kicks off at 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 28, at the Mercer County High School Auditorium, 1500 S. College Ave., Aledo. The 45-minute presentation and community forum will be emceed and hosted by the Presentation Group’s Rick Davis. Hors d’oeuvres and socializing will follow.
Mercer County Economic Development Director Kasi Henshaw said Friday’s meeting is, first of all, a celebration of the community. And there are a lot of things to celebrate in a community of communities, said Ms. Henshaw, who also staffs the county’s tourism arm, Visit MerCo.
Among them, according to the tourism website, which went live January 2020, are “an abundance of nature’s beauties including state parks, the Mississippi River, rolling hills, and wildlife refuges. Access to the river, parks and restaurants makes MerCo a go-to for daily or weekend getaways. Come to MerCo to eat Rhubarb Pie at a local festival, cruise the Mississippi, camp along the river banks, hike through Big River State Forest, and ride the MerCo trails.”
Ms. Henshaw said the community forum is a chance for residents from every corner of the community to take stock of the county “and all that it encompasses, and say, ‘Look how awesome it is to live here, and now what do we want to see ourselves being 10 years from now.’”
Toward that end, the event also is aimed at kickstarting a visioning effort by inviting Mercer County residents to take a seat at the table and join a discussion prompted, at least in part, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms. Henshaw originally was hired by the county board as economic development director to lead the county’s efforts to administer the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal stimulus and pandemic relief funds. The county is expected to receive $1.5 million in ARPA funds this year and an additional $1.5 million in June 2023.
Rather than simply spend the money as ideas come up, and “risk the chance of blowing $3 million,” Ms. Henshaw said, the county board agreed to create a long-term vision to guide those decisions and future ones.
To begin it, Mercer County Board Chairman Josh Frieden and others advocated for the community forum. In essence, Ms. Henshaw said, board members were saying, “If not now, when is there a better time to say, ‘What’s our vision?’”
In fact, Friday’s meeting is the first, important step in creating a 10-year vision that will help guide the board as it makes not just ARPA and stimulus funding choices, but also other future policy and economic decisions. It’s roughly modeled after the successful and ongoing 10-year communitywide visioning process undertaken by community members and leaders through the Mercer County Better Together (MCBT) organization.
The new visioning plan is not, however, intended to replace the MCBT vision. The county board “is building from and refreshing the data on community visioning and planning that MCBT cultivated from 2016-2018,” said Kyle McEwen, MCBT’s executive director.
To get this new countywide process started, Mercer County leaders also are focusing on following MCBT’s approach of aggressively reaching out to residents from every village and area in the county to ensure their views are represented, Ms. Henshaw said.
Residents throughout Mercer County are encouraged to attend and participate in Friday’s community celebration, organizers say.
Local businesses also are stepping up to join the effort. Sponsors for Friday’s event include Genesis Health Group, Zach Frick/Keller Williams Realty Greater Quad Cities, Green Door team and Brookstone of Aledo.