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Hometown Pride Could Equal Serious Money For DeKalb

Susan Stephens

DeKalb is a step closer to the three-million dollar top prize in an unusual national contest:  The “America’s Best Communities” competitionis helping towns invest more in their own revitalization plans.

Credit Susan Stephens / WNIJ
Members of the ABC Team (America's Best Communities) get into position at a celebration Thursday evening

  DeKalb has made the cut: the city is in the final 15 in the three-year-long contest. 350 communities started the competition: each round comes with more funding to help develop specific plans to improve their communities.

State Representative Bob Pritchard says this competition is a great reminder of DeKalb’s strengths. He says he’s “proud of the people that are here, the innovation and creativity, the risk-taking that we have in this community, as well as the diversity!”

Credit americasbestcommunities.com
DeKalb's proposed "ACE" Corridor: Arts, Culture, and Entertainment.

DeKalb has pulled together leaders from the city and Northern Illinois University, and depended on community input in developing its seven-point plan. Jennifer Groce is NIU’s director of community affairs. She says “this kind of a competition offers resources for us to be able to implement ideas that we have been thinking about and working on and identified as a community AND a university.”

Tom Kuschman is with Frontier Communications, one of four national sponsors of the contest. He’s also on the DeKalb team. He says they developed a seven point plan based on community feedback about their needs. “A food bank, a maker space, arts and entertainment, transportation options,” Kuschman offers,  “All of those things that provide something for everyone, you know, makes DeKalb a destination.”

Semi-finalists present their plans to expert judges at a conference in April.  Eight cities will be given one year and 100-thousand dollars to make progress on their plans. While the top three will take home a share of six million dollars in grants, every community walks away with a strong, locally-developed blueprint for its future.    

Credit Susan Stephens / WNIJ
Good news is even better when delivered via cake.

  The companies behind the national competition are Frontier Communications, Dish Network, CoBank, and the Weather Channel.   As part of the plan, DeKalb leaders ask residents to find creative ways to showcase good things about their community, then spread the news via social media with #ProudlyDeKalb

Seven Proposed Projects For DeKalb

  1. ACE Corridor- an arts, culture, and entertainment district
  2. LaunchPad-a virtual incubator website and network of advisors, progressing to a physical incubator 
  3. DeKalb Coworks - a co-working space 
  4. DeKalb Food Hub-a multipurpose local foods production and distribution facility
  5. SmartSpace-a STEAM education center (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) 
  6. Branding and marketing
  7. DeKalb Leadership Institute-a leadership development program
Susan is an award-winning reporter/writer at her favorite radio station. She's also WNIJ's Perspectives editor, Under Rocks contributor, and local host of All Things Considered.