Ryan McCrady is in familiar territory.
The new president of the Springfield-Sangamon Growth Alliance, a public-private partnership formed in 2017 to promote economic development, has deep local roots. He's from Divernon.
"For me, this is coming back home, so to speak," McCrady said during an interview March 13.
McCrady entered the public sector in 1997, when he became comptroller for the Sangamon County sheriff's office, a newly created position. In 2001, he stepped in to run the county jail on an interim basis on top of other duties. Two years later, in 2003, he was named Sangamon County administrator, a post he held for five years before becoming city manager in Decatur.
In 2015, McCrady became president of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County, a public-private nonprofit group that mirrors the local group that he's scheduled to take over in May. While McCrady was Decatur city manager, the Decatur economic development corporation in 2013 helped nurture a rail hub dubbed the Midwest Inland Port, which McCrady has promoted in his role as head of the Decatur nonprofit.
Hiring a familiar face isn't necessarily what backers of the local economic development group had in mind when the Springfield-Sangamon Growth Alliance was created three years ago.
"This isn't going to be just the same old way of doing things," Sangamon County board chairman Andy Van Meter said in 2018, when the alliance, then called the Land of Lincoln Economic Development Corporation, hired Eric Berglund, who came from Florida, as its first leader. "The organization intends to send a message that we're looking for a new effort and a new culture."
Within a year, Berglund was gone, having been caught embezzling. He pleaded guilty to theft last September, and the organization then changed its name. Since then, some downtowners have criticized the Springfield-Sangamon Growth Alliance for its role in promoting a development plan that would establish a downtown presence for the University of Illinois Springfield and Southern Illinois University, a plan which initially was cloaked in secrecy while business and property owners worried about the future.
Via email, Van Meter wrote that McCrady's experience in Macon County plus his time spent working in Sangamon County will serve him well. "He knows the community and its resources well but for the last decade he has been working with all the national relocation consultants and business developers," Van Meter said. "He knows the national levers to pull and the local levers to pull extremely well."
McCrady dismissed the notion that, having spent more than a decade working for county government, he can't deliver new ideas. "I've not been in Springfield for 11 years," he points out.
During his time as Decatur city manager, the downtown area, with the help of millions of dollars in tax-increment financing funds, underwent improvements and changes that included the institution of free parking, a concept that still isn't universally popular but that McCrady cites as an example of new thinking. He's long said that parking is one of the toughest issues a city can address. He also says that what flies in one place won't necessarily soar in another. "I'm not saying that everything that works in Decatur will work in Springfield," he says.
McCrady was paid more than $165,000 for the year that ended last June, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service by the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County, which reported receiving more than $927,000 in revenue that year. Such IRS filings are not available online for the Springfield-Sangamon Growth Alliance, which isn't subject to the state Freedom of Information Act or Open Meetings Act because, as a public-private nonprofit group, it does not have a quorum of officials who serve on the same public body. Dan Dungan, chairman of the alliance board, says that McCrady will be paid $175,000 a year. According to ProPublica, which tracks IRS filings, the alliance had nearly $1.3 million in revenue in 2018, the year it was created with private dollars and money from the city and county.
McCrady said that retention of existing businesses is vital. "You really have to sell the assets of the community," he said. Acknowledging concerns about high commercial power rates in Springfield, McCrady said that City Water, Light and Power isn't the only electric utility in the area.
"That means we will tell businesses, 'You have diverse resources for power,'" McCrady said.
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