Who We Are

The Value-Added Sustainable Development Center (VASDC) is a unit of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western Illinois University.  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.

Through funding from the United States Department of Agriculture, a special unit within VASDC called the Illinois Cooperative Development Center, helps cooperatives and other community-owned businesses in Illinois start up and succeed, by providing technical assistance, training, and publications.  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.

Sean Park, Program Manager

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Sean Park is Program Manager of the Value-added Sustainable 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. Sean has worked with IIRA 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.

John Gruidl, Economic Development Specialist

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John Gruidl is Economic Development Specialist within the Value-Added Development Center at IIRA.  Gruidl has performed more than 30 technical studies and feasibility studies on rural economic issues.  Most recently, he conducted a USDA-RD funded feasibility study for an agricultural incubator in the Missouri Bootheel and a Delta Regional Authority-funded feasibility study for an artisan innovation hub in the eastern Ozarks.  He has extensive experience examining entrepreneurial ecosystems in rural regions, taught community and economic development for many years, and founded important outreach and training programs, such as the Midwest Community Development Institute and Peace Corps Fellows program.  Gruidl was awarded the Community Development Achievement Award by the Community Development Society in 2007.  He holds a Ph.D. in Applied Economics with a focus on Community Economics (University of Wisconsin – Madison).

Innocent Asevameh,  Graduate Assistant

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Innocent Asevameh conducts financial analysis for grocery stores and small businesses for the Center.  He is currently a Master’s student in Community and Economic Development at WIU.  Innocent has a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.  He has extensive experience in strategic planning, Monitoring of projects,budgeting, procurement, Technological Business Development and feasibility studies from a Federal Government Research Institute in Nigeria (National Engineering Design Development Institute, Nnewi, Anambra State) where he worked as a Senior Planning Officer before coming to the United State of America for his postgraduate.  His goal is to be an Astute Economic Developer in order to influence his immediate environment and the world positively through making life worth living for everyone using every knowledge and skill he has.
Matthew Nguyen, BS Program Coordinator
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Matthew Nguyen works with the Value-Added Sustainable Development Center (VASDC) at the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) on the Wind for Schools Program. His job is to promote and teach renewable energy to K-12 students in the classrooms. Before working for VASDC, he was a Project Assistant with IIRA’s Administration where he was focused on helping with conferences. At the moment, he is not sure of what his future will entail because as he is teaching kids about wind and wind energy, he is learning something new himself every day. His personal goals is to improve his teaching skills, expand his knowledge of wind and wind energy, and to connect with more people in the rural communities.
Marcus Pickett, Graduate Assistant

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Marcus Pickett is an Atlantis Program Graduate, he is currently in the MBA program at Western Illinois University (WIU). The most influential position he has held while attending WIU are External Vice President of Alpha Psi Lambda, and Graduate Assistant for the Value-Added Sustainable Development Center (VASDC). His goal is to become a management consultant after his studies and help businesses be as successful as possible. He hopes to be a pillar of his community and a person who demonstrates the importance of community by participating in community development project or program. he wants to be an example of hope for anybody that feels they cannot achieve their dreams because of the life that was handed to them. He wants to set an example by building his own road when others walk on roads already built for them. He hopes to achieve all these during his life time.