Editor's Note: This is the second in a three-part series on how Aisin came to be a manufacturing giant in Southern Illinois. This piece showcases the organization that made the manufacturer a reality - REDCO. Tomorrow's piece will focus on the chronological growth of the plant.
MARION - From lessons in cooperation learned after a devastating 1982 tornado, the city of Marion began moving toward a larger vision of economic development. The business renaissance that followed that $100 million natural disaster was the inspiration for an organization, separate from the Marion Chamber of Commerce, dedicated to industrial development.
Its earliest proponents were members of the Economic Development Committee of the chamber, Jim Brandt and Donald Bett, and Marion Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Stephanie Bolen.
They thought it was time to separate industrial development activities from the remaining responsibilities of the Marion chamber, and to form a professional organization dedicated specifically to that aspect of economic development.
"Many of us who were involved in economic development felt that our area wasn't doing any better than most areas in securing development, so we put together a group to study the most successful economic develop groups in the Midwest," said Dutch Doelitzsch, chairman of the board of the Regional Economic Development Corporation.
"Road trips were made and we found several key factors that we were lacking, the most important of which was the need for a non-political, business-oriented entity that could maintain confidentiality, move quickly, had sufficient land and financial resources, and could speak with authority. The outgrowth of that study project was REDCO, with an organizational structure based on the most successful economic development groups."
Bett and Doelitzsch worked long and hard on the set-up and generating the many documents needed to actually put their plan into motion. The city of Marion and the Marion Chamber of Commerce were early supporters.
The Regional Economic Development Corporation or REDCO was born at a (now legendary) meeting between Marion Mayor Robert Butler and Bett at a local restaurant early one morning in 1998, when the mayor said he would support their efforts.
The chamber's executive committee and the Marion City Council quickly pledged their support to REDCO, and by March 1999, the Illinois Secretary of State approved REDCO's charter with three directors: George Trammell, Donald Bett and James Brandt.
The group's first meeting was held on May 6, 1999, when directors were elected and appointed by the city of Marion and the Marion Chamber and an executive director was hired, Thomas Wimberly.
Doelitzsch was the founding chairman of REDCO and has remained chairman except for a couple of years around 2010, when he stepped down but was asked to take over again).
In short order, the group expanded to include mayors and chamber officials from Herrin, Carterville and Johnston City; Williamson County Board and Regional Airport Authority officials; and representatives from John A. Logan College. They were one giant step closer to their goal of making REDCO an industrial economic force to be reckoned with in Southern Illinois.
"In the first year after we were formed, there were discussions with Carbondale and other communities along the Route 13 Corridor about a consolidated effort," said Doelitzsch. "The Williamson County base is what evolved."
In 2001, REDCO secured the financial backing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs to purchase the 289 acres of land between Marion and Herrin that would become the REDCO Industrial Park, and that same year, reached an agreement with Aisin to move in.
Aisin Manufacturing Illinois broke ground in August of 2001, hired 200 workers, and began production of sunroof and door assembly units at its new Williamson County plant the following summer.
"Aisin, REDCO and Southern Illinois have become tremendous partners," said Doelitzsch.
Today, the REDCO Industrial park is one of five in Williamson County that the group has helped develop and market and REDCO's cooperative partnerships have grown to involve public school districts, area hospitals, John A. Logan College and several area businesses and industries.
"At REDCO, we don't care who gets the credit, so long as our job-creating goals are accomplished," Doelitzsch said.
REDCO remains dedicated to providing employment opportunities for the citizens of Williamson County and Southern Illinois.
For more information, visit www.redco.org.