‘Better together’: Belleville forum calls for strong community to keep economy rolling

Issues & Eggs Chamber breakfast speakers forum

Five Belleville Civic leaders speak to Chamber of Commerce members
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Five Belleville Civic leaders speak to Chamber of Commerce members

The Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce invited five civic leaders on Tuesday morning to spread the message that a strong community will “fuel the economic engine.”

“We’re better together, that’s the bottom line,” said Jim Schneider, director of human resources, training and community development for the city of Belleville.

Last year, the city established the Community Development Network, which is an “open” network that encourages residents, community groups, churches, schools and businesses to work on improving the city.

“We’ve created a process that enables people to work together on projects and on solving social issues in Belleville,” Schneider said.

Tuesday’s meeting was part of the chamber’s Issues & Eggs series.

“When we think about economic development, we tend to think about TIFs and the economics of bringing businesses to town,” said Annissa McCaskill, director of the Economic Development, Planning and Zoning Department for the city. “But what most people don’t realize is that it’s the community and the connections and the relationships that we create ... that actually spur economic development.”

McCaskill encouraged the crowd to read the city’s comprehensive plan “Imagine Belleville,” which can be found on the city’s website at

Darrell Coons, director of the Belleville Main Street program with the chamber and the executive director of the BASIC Initiative, asked for ideas from the audience about keys to keeping community partnerships strong.

One tip: Have volunteers check their egos at the door and focus on co-operating to tackle the issue at hand. Other suggestions included asking everyone to participate, sharing resources and being respectful of differing viewpoints.

The speakers also asked the participants for comments about the strengths of Belleville’s community and the areas that need improvement.

The crowd identified the city’s festivals, legions of volunteers and programs to help children as part of the community’s strengths.

As far as weaknesses, the audience said the Belleville community needs to do more to combat negative attitudes and be more open-minded to new and different ideas.

Geri Boyer, founder and manager of Belleville-based Kaskaskia Engineering Group, was one of audience members and said that if you hear someone voicing negative or false comments, “We should say, ‘That’s not true.’ We need to take a stand.”

Along with Schneider, McCaskill and Coons, the other speakers were Lynn Clapp, a retired Belleville School District 118 administrator who now is with Vertical Performance of Belleville, and Amy Turck, director of member and community engagement for the YMCA of Southwest Illinois.

If you’re looking for a way to help the Belleville community, here’s something the panel discussed Tuesday: The fifth annual Belleville Helping Belleville service day will be Saturday, Sept. 12. Call 618-257-7022 or go to for more information. Nine projects will be targeted that day.

Contact reporter Mike Koziatek at or 618-239-2502. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKoziatekBND.