Chris Merrett earned his Ph.D. (University of Iowa) in Geography and Planning. He currently serves as the Dean for Innovation and Economic Development, as well as the Director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA), at Western Illinois University. The IIRA is a university-based research, outreach, teaching, and policy development center that identifies and implements strategies for sustainable rural community and economic development. Merrett has authored or collaborated on more than 100 publications in the area of rural community and economic development. He has secured over $12 million in external grants from agencies such as the USDA, US Agency for International Development (USAID), Economic Development Administration (EDA), Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), to support research, outreach, teaching, and policy development activities related to community and economic development. He serves as Co-Director of Midwest CDI and is a board member of the Community Development Council.
Sandy Wittig has been the Deputy Director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) since 2015. She has extensive experience in budget management, grant management, and human resources. Currently, she manages all of the IIRA financial accounts providing grant and budget management along with event management for all IIRA conferences and events. Joining the IIRA in 2007, she became directly involved with Midwest CDI. She serves as Co-Director of Midwest CDI and is a board member of the Community Development Council. Wittig earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Business Administration from Western Illinois University.
Class Director - Year 1
Anne is Program Leader and Assistant Dean, Community and Economic Development, University of Illinois Extension, and serves on the Community and Economic Development Team for University of Illinois Extension. Her work focuses on topics including community development, leadership development, community assessment and group process skills.
Class 2 Director
Courtney Yockey is the President and CEO of the Effingham Regional Growth Alliance. Prior to The Alliance, he served for seven years as the Executive Director of Richland County Development Corporation. Yockey also oversees the Business Navigator Alliance of Southcentral and Southeastern Illinois, a six-county regional collaboration working through a Small Business Navigator grant. He is a Certified Professional Community and Economic Developer who holds an MBA from the University of Illinois. Yockey retains a well-founded emphasis towards business retention & expansion practices and
believes a community’s strongest assets are their existing businesses. His primary focus is working with local governments and private businesses to expand operations, promoting economic development while creating and retaining employment opportunities. Yockey has a small family with three young daughters.
Class 3 Director
Brian Moody is the Executive Director of Tuscola Chamber & Economic Development, Inc. (TEDI) where he has been responsible for economic development, business recruitment and retention, and community development since 2005. A native of Tuscola, Illinois, and a 5th generation Illinoisan, he holds a Master of Business Administration from Eastern Illinois University. He is a graduate of Midwest CDI and a board member of Rural Partners. He serves as Vice Chair of the East Central Illinois Workforce Investment Board and the Douglas County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). Brian has been a firefighter for 25 years and became the Tuscola Fire Chief in 2015.
Eric R. Larson
Eric R. Larson has served in multiple positions during his 26-year Community Development career.
He has experience in planning, land use, building, public nuisance, code enforcement and animal control. He participated in the creation of TIF districts, use of economic development incentives such as CID’s, NID’s, SSID and other economic development tools. Eric recently accepted a position serving as the Executive Director of the St-Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District (a not-for-profit organization). His role is to promote recycling and sustainability in the St Louis metropolitan region. Eric received his PCED in 2010 while attending the Midwest CDI conference in Moline, IL. Eric earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Biology from Eastern Illinois University.