DANVILLE — For nearly four decades, Vicki Haugen made it her mission to develop the workforce and build the economy in her beloved home of Vermilion County.
Her sound judgment, spirit and passion will be “deeply missed,” said Vermilion Advantage Board Chairman Jon Stalcup.
Mrs. Haugen, the longtime president and CEO of Vermilion Advantage, died Tuesday, leaving a legacy of unparalleled work as the county’s economic development leader, the group said.
“I cannot describe the loss to this community,” said Mike Hulvey of Danville. “When you look at the impact that she had, and I think about the thousands of people who have worked, lived and raised their families in our community as a direct result of the work she has done for the past 40 years.”
Giving back to her community was her calling, Stalcup said, “and she put every ounce of energy into helping Vermilion County succeed.”
“She has been the heart of the organization since its inception,” he said. “All who had the privilege of knowing Vicki understand that Vermilion Advantage was not her occupation, it was her life’s mission.”
Ms. Haugen first joined a predecessor organization, the Economic Development Corporation, in Danville, when it was formed in 1982 and served as its vice president of marketing and later as its president and CEO. She became the founding president and CEO of Vermilion Advantage in 2002.
Mrs. Haugen is credited with helping create and retain thousands of jobs in Vermilion County, leading through the area’s difficulties and remaining an optimistic and fierce advocate for progress and development, according to Vermilion Advantage.
Fruits of her work include new business locations or expansions of such companies as Alcoa, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Thyssenkrupp, McLane Midwest, AutoZone Distribution, StraPack, Freight Car Services, Sygma, Hoopeston Foods, REG, Watchfire Signs, Automation International and Fiberteq, the group said.
Mrs. Haugen was also called the driving force in the development of Eastgate and Southgate industrial parks and most recently led a coalition resulting in the Carle Foundation’s $70 million investment in Danville’s west downtown area.
Hulvey, chief operating officer of Neuhoff Media, said much of what Mrs. Haugen contributed wasn’t the big economic development scores but in the lesser-known work she did to retain and expand businesses that kept jobs in Vermilion County.
At the end of her life, she was still involved in local projects, Hulvey said.
“This town owes her so much,” he said.
Scott Eisenhauer, the former Danville mayor who is now Rantoul’s village administrator, said Mrs. Haugen was an amazing gardener and she nurtured economic development and jobs in Vermilion County in much the same way she tended her garden.
Mrs. Haugen had her hand on every industry in the community, and she may not have been credited enough for her ability to work with local businesses and retain those that may have otherwise left, he said.
She was a master at communication, relationship building and problem solving, and he learned much from her, Eisenhauer said.
“When there was a problem to be solved, Vicki could figure out a way to solve it,” he said. “When there was a barrier in our way, Vicki would figure out a way to get us past that barrier and keep us on the right track,”.
Eisenhauer and Hulvey also said Mrs. Haugen’s work in economic development was known well beyond Vermilion County.
A lifelong resident of Vermilion County, Mrs. Haugen graduated from Danville High School and the UIC College of Business Administration’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.
Her leadership was key to the success of an 18-month retail expansion in the community, creating more than 500,000 square feet of new retail space and repurposed existing spaces, according to Vermilion Advantage.
After making trips to Japan and Germany in the 1990s, Mrs. Haugen launched a groundbreaking, collaborative approach to workforce development that became a community catalyst, the group said.
She was among the first to bring industry and education together for a new kind of workforce education, resulting in new education and training programs, scholarships, apprenticeships and internships, according to Vermilion Advantage.
“Vicki saw early on that if the community was to survive and prosper, the political, business, education and community leaders would need to work together,” said U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.
Mrs. Haugen is survived by her husband, Wayne. He has requested that donations be made to OSF HealthCare Foundation to support cancer treatment and services in Vermilion County.
Tinisha Spain, director of business development at Vermilion Advantage, will serve as interim president and CEO while the group develops a succession plan.