Last week, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) released a five-year economic development plan for the state. The document is the product of six months of work by DCEO, insight and analysis from researchers at Northern Illinois University (NIU), and feedback from stakeholders across the state.
As every business leader and elected official knows, it’s impossible to achieve lofty goals or rally support until you understand where you want to go and define a path to get there. The report lays out in clear terms how Illinois can spur economic development and ensure that all Illinois residents benefit from more business activity and investment.
Leff Communications provided all of the writing, editing, design, and editorial production for the report, which posed an interesting challenge. With so many audiences—the General Assembly, economic development organizations across the state, businesses, the media, and the public, among others—the plan had to cover a lot of ground. At the same time, it had to be an accessible document; the world already has too many overwritten government reports that no one reads. (You might have one acting as a doorstop in your office.)
Furthermore, the report had the potential to serve another purpose: although DCEO administers an annual budget of approximately $3 billion, many people in Illinois—including business leaders—aren’t aware of the full scope of programs it offers and the impact the agency has on communities across the state. If the report could also act to educate and promote DCEO initiatives, it would have multiple uses after its initial release.
Early in the planning process, we worked with DCEO Director Adam Pollet, Assistant Director Dan Seals, and Chief of Staff Andrew Moyer to come up with a novel approach: what if every graphic we created could be reused in DCEO presentations and collateral to reinforce its mission? And since the report outlines seven initiatives that the state will pursue to achieve its goals, what if each initiative was designed so it could be its own freestanding brochure? And what if, instead of a wall of text, the report was presented with color and graphics that matched the passion and commitment of those involved in developing the plan?
The end product is an 80-page report that is easy to navigate, visually interesting, and uses graphics and design to bring complex ideas and mountains of data to life. Just as important, whether someone reads every word or just scans the document, he or she will come away with the main ideas: the plan is built on data and deep analysis; the initiatives, if successful, will have a material impact on all parts of the state; and DCEO has a clear vision for how to get there. If you’re worried about the state’s trajectory, this report will allay some of those fears.
Our designer, Delilah Zak, created more than a dozen exhibits that visualize data and concepts in a way that’s straightforward and aesthetically pleasing. If you want to know with just a glimpse which industry clusters Illinois’ North Central region is positioned to attract, just go to page 5 of the report. Wondering how Illinois does on net business establishments compared with its Midwest neighbors? Go to page 19. (Spoiler alert: Illinois entrepreneurs establish more than double the number of businesses of those in the next closest state.) Very few people can do what Delilah does.
My colleague Brittany Petersen was indefatigable throughout the process; she worked to shape the report’s big ideas, tweak the language, and integrate multiple rounds of feedback from a dedicated group of researchers and experts, including Brian Selinger, Terry Weldin-Frisch, Allen Mayer, and NIU’s Norm Walzer and his team at NIU’s Center for Governmental Studies. As a result, this report, in addition to being an ambitious plan, is also a good read—clear, concise, and compelling.
This project, like our work on Chicago’s proposal for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, has the potential to improve the city and state. We’re fortunate to contribute to such a worthy goal.