Merrett Named Dean of Innovation & Economic Development, Special Adviser for Innovation – Western Illinois University

Merrett Named Dean of Innovation & Economic Development, Special Adviser for Innovation

June 27, 2022


MACOMB/MOLINE, IL — Christopher D. Merrett, longtime director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western Illinois University, has been named dean of innovation and economic development, as well as special adviser to the president for innovation, at WIU.

In these roles, Merrett will continue to lead the IIRA, but will be taking on additional responsibilities related to WIU’s participation in the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN). He has served as IIRA director since 2005. In that role, he provides leadership and research on rural economic development, small business development, entrepreneurship and more, and works with state and federal leaders, including the Lt. Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, on rural policy issues. The IIRA and the Illinois Innovation Network, of which Merrett serves as a member of the IIN’s executive board, works to improve the quality of life in rural areas by developing public-private partnerships with local, state and federal agencies. Institute projects include rural economic and community development, health care, education, public transportation, public management policies, housing and technology.

“Dr. Merrett’s experience and expertise leading the IIRA, and being an expert source in the state regarding rural policy issues and improving the quality of life for Illinois residents, along with his role in state policy networks, provides an invaluable service and distinctiveness for WIU ,” noted WIU President Guiyou Huang. “As states, in particular rural communities, must become more self-sufficient in order to be sustainable, we have to be innovative and prepared to set ourselves apart. Dr. Merrett’s skills do exactly that. I look forward to WIU’s continued positive forward trajectory .”

Recently, the IIRA received a $400,000 federal grant to provide additional services for small business start-ups, including minority, women and immigrant entrepreneurs, in the Quad Cities region. In addition, in 2021, the institute was designated as a business hub for the Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Back 2 Business (B2B) small business recovery grant program to assist rural Illinois businesses, and during the height of the pandemic, the IIRA worked with rural communities to augment the federal and state agency responses. The Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) represents a group of 15 university-based hubs across the state that aims to boost Illinois’ economy through entrepreneurship, research and workforce development. WIU’s IIN Innovation Hub will advance economic development in the University’s 16-county service area and throughout the state, as well as technology applications used in rural community planning.

“It is my privilege to serve WIU in this new role. As I increase my involvement with the IIN, my goal is to bring additional research, teaching, and outreach opportunities to WIU faculty, staff and students, with the long-term goal of helping WIU serve as a driver of community and economic development for our region,” Merrett said.

Merrett earned his doctoral degree in geography and planning from the University of Iowa in 1994. He has been a faculty member at IIRA since 1995, with teaching duties in the geography department and the WIU Centennial Honors College. He currently chairs and also teaches in the IIRA’s recently launched MA degree in community and economic development.

He has raised over $12 million in external funds as PI or Co-PI. He has also authored or edited more than 100 publications, including five books and 14 book chapters. Most recently, he co-edited, with former IIRA Director Norm Walzer, two books: “A Cooperative Approach to Local Economic Development” and “Cooperatives and Local Development: Theory and Applications for the 21st Century.” He has published in many journals, including the Journal of the Community Development Society, Journal of Geography, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Urban Geography and the Professional Geographer.

As a faculty member Merrett taught both graduate and undergraduate students and has served on numerous master’s and doctoral thesis committees at WIU, the University of Illinois, University of Tennessee, and George Mason University, serving as chair on 44 of those committees. He has extensive experience in grant writing, strategic planning, project management, conference planning and directing research. Merrett has served in leadership positions in numerous professional organizations and has served on the editorial board of two journals. In 2006, he was named the University’s Distinguished Faculty Lecturer.

Posted By: University Communications (U-Communications@wiu.edu)
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