Springfield hires economic development director

Mayor's choice starts on Monday

Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder has chosen Val Yazell, a business development consultant, as the city’s new economic development director.

Yazell, who starts work Monday, replaces Karen Davis, who resigned her position last summer after two years as the city’s economic development director. Yazell will work under contract and on an interim basis. She said that she will hold the post until the city’s new fiscal year begins on March 1. She’ll be paid $6,000 per month, and so the mayor doesn’t need the approval of the city council, which must approve contracts that cost more than $25,000.

Yazell said that she did not apply for the job, rather, the mayor asked her to work for the city. Prior to launching her business consulting firm in March, Yazell was a business development officer for Illini Bank. She has also worked as senior director of external affairs and development for the Hope Institute for Children and Families. She has worked for the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission, both as a consultant and a commissioner, and she holds an unpaid position as president of Local First Springfield, nonprofit organization that aims to promote local businesses.

Langfelder said that a critical report on local economic development efforts issued last month by Sangamon County played no role in his decision to hire Yazell. He said that he is bringing in Yazell because both he and deputy mayor Bonnie Drew are concentrating on preparation of the city budget as opposed to duties typically performed by the city’s economic development director. In addition to economic development, Langfelder said that Yazell will help with planning and community development. Among other duties, he said, she will help shepherd the city’s comprehensive plan, which has been issued in draft form and is open for public comment.

The mayor hasn’t signed on to an effort led by Sangamon County to create an economic development corporation that would take charge of local economic development efforts. The county plans to spend $500,000 to create and staff the corporation, which would also be funded by the private sector, but the city, so far, has not committed any money. Langfelder said he wants to have more discussions. Existing entities, he said, should be considered when it comes to assigning responsibilities for economic development.

“I don’t think you need to create a new bureaucratic organization,” the mayor said.

The consultant that issued the report last month criticized past economic development efforts, saying that they have failed to lure new businesses and that new ideas and creative thinking are often discouraged in Springfield. The report was particularly critical of the city, saying that business owners are concerned about high utility costs, permitting processes take too long and inspectors tasked with reviewing construction projects make inconsistent decisions.

Langfelder said that he brought up problems with permitting during his interview with the consultant. He said he favors a uniform permitting system so that developers can use the same process anywhere in Sangamon County. He also said that he agrees that there have been problems with inspectors.

“We have to be more consistent,” Langfelder says.

The mayor said he doesn’t disagree that economic development efforts need attention.

“Everybody’s in agreement: We can do better,” Langfelder said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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