SJR Column: Sangamon County Survey, October 2019
The University of Illinois Springfield recently released results of the 2019 Sangamon County Citizen Survey. The purpose of the study, funded by United Way of Central Illinois, the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln and UIS, was to evaluate residents’ assessment of the quality of life in Sangamon County and provide local leaders, organizations and citizens with insights that can guide future decisions and investments.
Results of the survey paint both a promising and a sobering picture of the community we call home – highlighting challenges and opportunities that, if addressed successfully, will enhance the well being of county residents for years to come.
According to the survey, 72% of respondents believe we have good or excellent K-12 education. Quality education is essential to getting and keeping a job with a livable wage and employee benefits that contribute to healthier families and, ultimately, a healthier community.
With the conviction that every child deserves a chance to succeed, United Way invests in partnerships with local organizations that address community-identified educational priorities. These include kindergarten readiness initiatives, programs to ensure children reach academic milestones and successfully transition to middle school, and support for progression to high school with skills that lead to timely graduation and a plan for success beyond.
Though more than 60% of survey respondents say Sangamon County is an excellent or good place to live and raise a family, they are not as positive about the local economy. Only 19% think Sangamon County has an excellent or good reputation for retaining existing businesses and only 21% believe the county has an excellent or good reputation for attracting new businesses. Eighty-nine percent say growing downtown Springfield is important to the economic development of the area – the highest percentage since the survey began in 2013.
It’s clear citizens of Sangamon County are concerned about the business climate and value downtown Springfield as an economic driver. The Community Foundation had these concerns in mind when it launched Innovate Springfield five years ago to catalyze business and social innovation both dowhtown and throughout the region.
Now led by UIS with support from the Foundation, the City of Springfield and the Land of Lincoln Economic Development Corporation, Innovate Springfield has more than 60 members – a resounding success that is creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs and collaborating with a range of community partners to mobilize critical social initiatives.
Results of the Survey reinforce the compelling need for strategic investments in our community. Those investments include the continued expansion of Innovate Springfield – announced last year as the first regional hub of the University of Illinois’s Discovery Partners Institute innovation network.
At the same time, social innovation programs such as the Nurse-Family Partnership, an outgrowth of the Continuum of Learning initiative that is led by SIU School of Medicine’s Center for Family Medicine, are critical to serving our most vulnerable residents.
Construction of a new UIS hub facility, supported in part by a recent capital appropriation for the DPI, has the potential to greatly expand business development and social innovation efforts across the county. At the same time it will bring additional vitality to the downtown area.
More than anything else, results of the 2019 Survey are a call to action. Collaborations that led to the launch of Innovate Springfield and the Continuum of Learning – including listening, planning and acting to improve the community – are successes we’re eager to replicate.
As leaders of three organizations that are deeply invested in the success of our community, we understand the needs are great and the stakes are high. We encourage all leaders and citizens to use the Survey results as a springboard for collaboration that will ultimately enhance the quality of life for all residents of Sangamon County.
Results of the Survey are available at: https://go.uis.edu/SangamonSurvey. Dr. A.J. Simmons, Director of the UIS Institute for Legal, Legislative and Policy Studies is available upon request for presentations of the survey results to community groups (firstname.lastname@example.org).
John Kelker is President of the United Way of Central Illinois, Susan Koch is Chancellor at the University of Illinois Springfield, John Stremsterfer is President and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln.