Chamber embraces agriculture, agribusiness
Saturday, December 15, 2012 8:23 AM
STERLING, Ill. — Agriculture is a big part of doing business in the Sauk Valley region of northern Illinois. So it was a natural fit that a regional chamber of commerce would include one of the region’s biggest employers and economic engines.
Farmers take in some of the exhibits at the Northwestern Illinois Farm Show at Westwood Fitness and Sports Center in Sterling Dec. 8. The show is one of two events that are cosponsored by the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce’s Agribusiness Committee along with the Whiteside County Farm Bureau and the Sterling Park District.
“The Sauk Valley area’s largest sector of the economy is still agriculture,” said Kim Ewoldsen, executive director of the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce is headquartered in Sterling in Whiteside County. Its membership includes a wide array of businesses, industries and individuals that reach from Lee County all the way to the Quad Cities and also includes Rockford to the north, with entities from 23 communities in the region having membership.
A number of those members hail from the agricultural sector.
“A number of years ago, at least more than 25, a group of individuals got together and said, ‘Hey, we’re a pretty important part of the economy,’ and they talked to the chamber. The chamber leaders and board said, ‘You’re right,’ and told them, ‘We’re here to serve you,’” Ewoldsen recalled.
That led to the creation of the chamber’s agribusiness committee.
“We are one of the only chambers in the state that has an agribusiness committee,” Ewoldsen said. “The members of the committee include chamber members who are part of the agribusinesses in the community, including farmers.”
The committee is active in the chamber and sponsors two events, the Northwestern Illinois Farm Show, which just completed its eighth year, and a summertime Steak Fry in the Country.
The Northwestern Illinois Farm Show continues to grow. This year’s show had a two-day attendance of just under 1,000 people.
That, according to Matt Lillpop, manager of the Whiteside County Farm Bureau, is about the average for show attendance.
The number of vendors, which include local agribusiness and national brands, was up, at 63 total vendors this year.
“The great thing about the agribusiness committee is that they do the two events every year, the farm show and the Steak Fry in the Country. All the proceeds from the events are donated to scholarship funds. Every year, they award thousands of dollars in agribusiness scholarships to students from the Sauk Valley, so the money totally goes back to the community,” the executive director said.
Ewoldsen herself hails from a farm background — her parents operate Janssen Family Farms, a beef, pork and row-crop farm in Whiteside County. The family also is involved in the Twin City Farmers Market, one of the few year-round indoor farmers’ markets in the state.
The Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce continues to be a strong supporter of agriculture and agribusiness in the region, Ewoldsen said.
“The number of jobs that are contributed to the local economy by agriculture as well as the number of ancillary jobs is just phenomenal — it’s still our No. 1 industry for the area. Our proximity to transportation and distribution makes it a natural fit, as well,” she said.
“We’ve been able to have a lot of value-added agriculture in the region. We have a growing local foods industry. Last spring, with the help of the Greater Sterling Development Corp., we were able to bring a full-service kitchen incubator to the Sauk Valley area.”
“Agriculture still remains our lifeblood,” she added. “And we’re really proud of our agricultural tradition and our ties to agriculture.”