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Year in Review 2015: Southwestern Illinois
 
RiverBend Growth Association helps rollout CEO, Bike MS initiatives

By MELISSA CROCKETT MESKE
    While continuing to provide its core member services, including hosting monthly networking events and providing ongoing review of economic impact factors for its members, the RiverBend Growth Association also manages to keep adding new initiatives and events to an already extensive list of member and community services.
    One such initiative introduced in 2015 to the River Bend area was the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) Program. Designed to help high school students learn valuable business skills, this program pairs students with local businesses and mentors to effectively learn about the ins and outs of business while also instilling confidence and creativity.
    Monica Bristow, president of the Growth Association, said that this program helps better prepare students for the realities of adult life before they are fully part of it.
    “Whether they go on to college after high school, seek advanced training, or move straight into the workforce, this program is life-changing for the students involved,” she said. “It helps shape them into productive, creative and responsible members of their community who are also vibrant and keenly aware members of society.”
    In the program, created by Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship of Effingham, Ill., each student is required to create their own business complete with a business plan. Students also complete a survey of their community before and after the class, discovering some surprising results in regard to what is actually happening within the business climate. The overlying goal is to encourage those students with a desire to become business leaders to also consider doing so in their hometown.
    Alton and Marquette Catholic High School students are participating in the initial River Bend CEO Program. Bristow noted that involvement in the program does not require a certain GPA for admission — creativity and perseverance are much more of a demand for successful completion.
    A new event of a national scale was added to the River Bend area’s calendar this year as well. Held each year over the weekend following Labor Day, Bike MS: Gateway Getaway is a two-day premier fundraising cycling series benefitting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
    Previously held in Columbia, Mo., the ride needed a new home and found one at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey.
    The RiverBend Growth Association worked with the MS Society and the college to secure this as an ongoing annual event for the community, bringing with it a markedly positive economic impact for area vendors, businesses, restaurants, hotels, and more throughout the region.
    “People from 21 states were in the area for this event,” Bristow said.
    Both of these new initiatives fit well within the mission of the Growth Association, which is to provide leadership required to attract, promote and support new and existing enterprise growth throughout the River Bend community.