Shifts at Ill. Coalition highlight role with DCEO

September 23, 2004


John Maxson has resigned as president of the Illinois Coalition, the public-private partnership charged with developing Illinois' science and technology sectors.

The move paves the way for the resolution of a long standing disagreement between the coalition and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. DCEO has been seeking a greater voice in the operation and direction of the coalition as a condition for future financial support of the group.

The coalition has a planned operating budget of about $388,000, with, theoretically, half from the state and half self-funded. State funding this year, however, was zero, leaving the coalition with an operating budget of about $152,000. In addition, the coalition receives about $1 million in restricted Small Business Administration support.

Said DCEO spokesman Andrew Ross, "DCEO wants the coalition to fulfill its original mission, which is to be a tech advocate for the state, and focus on bringing new public and private investment into the state for high tech projects like the Rare Isotope Accelerator, which would provide Illinois with a tremendous economic boost."

Sources close to the negotiations say DCEO wants the coalition to relinquish its activities in grant making and technology commercialization. DCEO would likely assume responsibility for those initiatives, consolidating them with its own programs.

The debate over the coalition's role predates the Blagojevich administration, and has been a drag on statewide, tech-based economic development for several years.

Coalition Chairman Samuel Skinner said a new president will be named "shortly," and added, "We're looking at the mission of the coalition and how to approach it. We're in commercialization and getting investment for our labs and universities. Those are two missions, and we've been doing both pretty well."

Skinner added, "John Maxson did a great job for us at considerable personal sacrifice. He will be very tough to replace. I was hoping he would stay longer."

Maxson, 57, is a respected former Exelon executive who joined the Coalition as president in 2002. His skills and knowledge of the Washington political scene, and his ease in working with the city's top business executives were among his strengths.

Due to financial constraints, Maxson worked without a salary since mid-2003. Several Coalition staff members left in recent months as a result of the budget difficulties. Maxson will be honored at the Coalition board's annual meeting Oct. 21.

The Illinois Coalition was founded in 1989 to support science and technology investments in Illinois. The Coalition board includes many senior business executives as well as the leaders of the region's top academic research universities and federal research labs.

Provided the Blagojevich administration and private sector leaders can agree, the Coalition could once again become a force in advancing science and technology investments in Illinois. Responsibility for creating that alignment now rests with Skinner and Gov. Blagojevich's point person on economic development, DCEO Director, Jack Lavin.

"The Illinois Coalition continues to be a critical resource for promoting science and technology throughout Illinois," said David Weinstein, president of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center. "Bottom line, someone must be the advocate for the state with regards to science and technology."

Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners