By Rene Gellerman, Sr. Vice President Quad Cities Chamber; Loaned Executive, Q2030 Regional Action Plan; Shared ownership.
It was on a CEOs for Cities trip to Columbus, Ohio, this past year that I discovered the true spirit of that term. On tours of an art museum and a local college, I was taken aback by the number of people with the same genuine narrative, reflective of a community motivated not by what their city could do for them, but rather, what they could do personally and collectively to build a stronger Columbus.
They not only saw themselves and their organizations as being responsible for shaping their future… they lived that commitment out loud. I saw shared ownership as the secret sauce in Columbus, and knew we had similar makings in my community, the Quad Cities.
We’re a bi-state region located in eastern Iowa and western Illinois. The Mississippi River flows between our two states and is so extraordinary that it attracts people from around the globe. As one of the busiest commercial waterways in the world, a neighbor to some of the continents richest farmland and with a storied history that links to U.S. Presidents and author Mark Twain, the “Mighty Mississippi” is an economic, cultural, recreational, environmental and commercial differentiator for our Quad Cities region. And yet, we’ve taken this asset for granted in the past and sometimes have even used it as literal divider.
While I didn’t recognized it at the time, the first ingredients of our secret sauce started to emerge when our business sector moved to create a combined, regional Quad Cities Chamber and Economic Development organization more than seven years ago. Today, many of our public and private sector leaders work beyond jurisdictional lines and demonstrate a commitment to build relationships of mutual trust, and an understanding that we’re better and more competitive in attracting and growing talent, jobs, corporate investments and opportunities when we leverage the assets of our region and work together.
This practice is fueling wide-spread energy, resulting in increased civic engagement, and importantly, momentum for the implementation of our Q2030 Regional Action Plan, a long-term collaborative community initiative aimed to make the Quad Cities a more cool, creative, connected and prosperous place.
The Q2030 Regional Action Plan is an oasis of catalytic opportunities. The Mississippi Riverfront has been pegged as our single most transformative amenity to enhance the Quad Cities’ quality of life and place, attraction to talent and regional job creation. Another key priority is to maximize the $1.4 billion replacement of the I-74 bridge over the Mississippi. For our community, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will benefit the Quad Cities forever.
These two regional, complex priorities necessitate collaboration, patience, flexibility, resources and a long view. To realize our vision, the Quad Cities has to have a comprehensive approach to build community will, and put into motion directed, focused and coordinated actions that optimize these significant and unique assets.
I’m proud of the collaboration that is happening. Our municipalities and bi-state regional commission worked together for more than 20 years to make the replacement of the I-74 bridge a reality. They’ve collectively planned, designed and secured the funding for the construction. Its signature design will reflect the unique characteristics of our river community. There won’t be another like it in the world. It will be the only federal bridge with a pedestrian path across a major waterway in the United States and it will quadruple the capacity for traffic into the core of our region. During the three years of construction, there will be more than 500 people a day working on the bridge for months at a time.
Transforming our region is an ambitious goal. Unifying efforts, working for equitable growth, harnessing regional resources, assets, people, passion and energy across a river, two states, several counties and numerous cities is a very real challenge that necessitates all hands on deck… and minds in check.
While perfecting our region’s secret sauce will require sustained attention, effort and modifications, we’ve gotten a taste of what can happen when people from across sectors and jurisdictions come together around consensus priorities. We’re making a bold statement that we’re collectively ready for the challenges of today’s economic realities and putting the ingredients together to overcome them.
About the Author
Rene M. Gellerman, IOM, is the senior vice president of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, a 2,000-member business and economic development organization serving a bi-state metropolitan area of 450,000.
As a member of the Executive Leadership Team, Rene provides direction and insight that support Chamber priorities and helps inform planning and development of strategies to achieve the organization’s goals. Rene’s current primary responsibility is leading Q2030, the Quad Cities community’s Regional Action Plan aimed to grow talent, jobs, investments and economic opportunity.
Rather than subscribing to the “this is how we’ve always done it” thinking, Rene is known for studying best practices from other regions in the country that are succeeding and adapting for innovating solutions at the Chamber or for the Quad Cities. During her 10 years at the Chamber, she has participated in and supported the successful mergers of four like-entities, achieving the long-standing goal of the business and civic community to have a single, regional business organization overseeing economic and community advancement. Additionally, she led a $1.2 million, record breaking total resource campaign and instigated collaboration among the business, government, education and non-profit sector for the creation of the first ever, regional vision and action plan.
Rene is active in the Iowa Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ICCE), Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) and the U.S. Chamber Institute of Organizational Management, Midwest Board of Regents.
In addition to her engagement in the Chamber industry, Rene also serves on the Board of Directors of Living Lands & Waters, River Music Experience and the Quad Cities Cultural Trust. She is a member of the United Way of the Quad Cities Women’s Leadership Council.
Before joining the Chamber, Rene served as a resource and development professional at the non-profit music organization, River Music Experience and the Scott County Family YMCA. She began her career as a congressional liaison for United States Representative, Lane Evans.
About the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce
The Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce is focused on increasing economic strength and prosperity in the region, and does so by executing a comprehensive economic development strategy, serving as the backbone for Q2030: A Regional Action Plan, delivering a strong bi-state advocacy program, and providing business growth services for its members.
The Quad Cities is a six-county, bi-state region in eastern Iowa and western Illinois which includes the Davenport-Moline-Rock Island IA-IL, Clinton, IA and the Muscatine, IA metropolitan statistical areas. . Located along the Mississippi River and 2 1/2 hours west of Chicago, the Quad Cities region is home to Fortune 500 corporations such John Deere & Company, 3M and Alcoa, along with the Rock Island Arsenal, a major military installation.