In the fall of 2008, Illinois State University – Extended University (EU) and the Economic Development Council of the Bloomington-Normal Area (EDC) initiated discussions about a community partnership project to identify workforce opportunities and challenges related to economic stabilization and growth in order to gain a better understanding of the state of workforce preparedness in the area. Rapidly changing dynamics in the economy made previous assessments obsolete. Organizations who work toward the promotion of a strong workforce were approached to participate in the project. EU and the EDC were joined in sponsoring a community event by Heartland Community College, Illinois Wesleyan University, Lincoln College – Normal, Regional Office of Education 17, McLean County Chamber of Commerce, CareerLink 16, and the Small Business Development Center at Illinois State University.

Project partners designed and developed a series of discussion forums for eight sectors: Agriculture and Energy, Manufacturing, Small Business Retail, Service, Financial Services, Information Technology, Healthcare, and Construction. The Forum for Business Growth and Workforce Development was held from June 8 – 12, 2009 at Illinois State University. Each sector panel discussion was moderated over a ninety minute period and included two to seven panelists from area businesses.