Economic development and diversification is a key component of community resilience. Consider this excerpt from L Hunter Lovins et al’s “A Finer Future”:

The key may be to start not with the nation but at a more local level. Imagine what might be called the Just City. In such a place, every person has both the right to live in a healthy environment and the responsibility to work for the health of their community. The Just City provides freedom for all to pursue their individual vision — including business enterprise — and also freedom for all from economic oppression and lack of opportunity.

Lovins, L. Hunter; Wallis, Stewart; Wijkman, Anders; Fullerton, John. A Finer Future (Kindle Locations 5529-5533). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We’re starting in Carbondale with these discussions on June 12 at the Climate Economy event. The keynote starts at 11:15, followed by the panel discussion at 1:00 p.m. after lunch (provided for registered attendees).

Dr. John Ikerd – Keynote and Panelist

John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, was raised on a small dairy farm in southwest Missouri and received his BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in agricultural economics from the University of Missouri. He worked in private industry for a time and spent thirty years in various professorial positions at four different state universities before retiring in early 2000. Since retiring, he spends most of his time writing and speaking on issues related to sustainability with an emphasis on agriculture and economics. He is the author of six books, which can be located through his websites:  or

Dr. Ikerd will talk about the Green New Deal as a framework for sustainable economic development—particularly since it focuses on challenges of climate change. He will talk about how the economic philosophy implied in the Green New Deal would change economic policy and create opportunities for a fundamentally different approach to economic development—particularly in rural areas.

Key talking points:  The importance of economic, ecological, and social diversification within the context of the principles embodied in the Green New Deal. 

Mike McKee – Panelist

Mike has been with USDA Rural Development for more than 10 years, delivering service in the more than 40 programs available through the agency.   In his current role, he focuses on economic development through community and business programs.  As a lifelong resident of the area, it is his intent to help the people of southern Illinois continue to discover ways to utilize their available resources and to assist in the prosperity of rural America.

Key talking points:  USDA eligibility, programs, examples, how to engage with UDSA

Lisa Merrifield – Panelist

Lisa Merrifield is the sustainable community specialist within University of Illinois Extension’s Community and Economic Development Team. She works with University of Illinois faculty, Extension specialists, Extension Educators and community leaders to identify opportunities and approaches that help local governments and organizations address the challenges they face. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a Master’s degree in Urban Planning with a focus on natural resource planning.

Key talking points:  Ideas and resources on innovative funding mechanisms for sustainability and rural communities and an introduction to some of the Extension programs available in the region.

Kim Watson – Panelist

Kim Watson is the Senior Account Manager with the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity Regional Economic Development-Southern Region.  Kim has been with the agency since 2004. Kim is a graduate of Murray State University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Journalism.  Kim serves on the Rural Partners Board and is a life-long resident of Southern Illinois and lives near Harrisburg with her family.

Key talking points: examples of programs

Cindy Winland – Panelist and Moderator

Cindy Winland provides consulting services to the Just Transition Fund in New York City and Delta Institute in Chicago, focusing on technical assistance and planning in communities impacted by the transition away from coal assets. Cindy’s work is primarily in power plant communities in the Midwest and Western states as well as in tribal communities. She develops strategies to address the financial, employment, social, and environmental impacts when a power plant closes.  She works closely with utilities on public engagement and site reuse as part of the closure process. 

Key talking points: Short introduction to the Just Transition Fund, philanthropy is alive and well in rural America, how to engage with philanthropy, examples from across middle America.

Read more about the event and register: The Climate Economy in Southern Illinois – Creating Resilient Businesses, Jobs and Communities.