Who We Are
The Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western Illinois University builds the capacity of community leaders and policymakers by providing technical support, applied research, policy evaluation, and training across the state. IIRA is a clearinghouse for information on rural issues, coordinates rural research, and works with state agencies on issues of importance to rural communities.
The Illinois Cooperative Development Center (ICDC) at IIRA helps cooperatives and other community-owned businesses in Illinois start up and succeed, by providing technical assistance, training, and publications. ICDC assistance is available to co-ops in any sector of the economy, as well as to economic development and business assistance organizations seeking to enhance their own ability to serve co-ops.
The Value-Added Sustainable Development Center (VASDC) extends IIRA’s rural community economic development work to the sectors of agriculture, food, energy, and community sustainability. VASDC helps farmers, non-farm rural businesses, and community leaders excel by providing technical assistance and research on topics such as value-added and sustainable agriculture, local food systems, rural grocery stores, and renewable energy systems.
Sean Park, Program Manager
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Sean Park is Program Manager of the Illinois Cooperative Development Center at IIRA, where he provides technical assistance and training on business plan development and business start-up to cooperatives and other rural businesses in all sectors, and administers IIRA’s overall outreach in the co-op sector. He also manages the Value-Added Sustainable Development Center at IIRA and contributes to the work of the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at IIRA-WIU, where he provides business counseling to entrepreneurs in start-up, finance, marketing, management, and website design. Sean has worked with IIRA for since 2010, and his experience also includes ten years as owner-operator of an independent rural grocery store, seven years in operations management for a national corporation, and additional roles as a community college business instructor and a small town economic development director. Park is a Certified Business Advisor and has completed CooperationWorks! Cooperative Business Development Training Program. He received an MA in economics from WIU and a BA in economics from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Jolene Willis, Sust. Dev. Specialist
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Jolene Willis is Sustainable Development Specialist at IIRA, where she coordinates the wind energy outreach program and provides technical assistance to communities on wind power and other forms of renewable energy. She also teaches in the IIRA-WIU Community Economic Development graduate degree program, and formerly served as Associate Manager of IIRA cooperative development programs. Willis has been closely involved in advancing several community- and utility-scale wind farm projects, working in county level community and economic development organizations. She has extensive experience in professional economic development organizations and non-profit organizational management and programming and is a certified Business Retention & Expansion Consultant. She has a MPA from the University of Illinois Springfield and a BS in Agricultural Communications from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.