The City of Chicago and its suburban counties announced in early January their intent to collaborate in the Greater Chicago Economic Partnership to increase business investment in the region in unprecedented ways.
It’s a laudably ambitious idea, although Crane’s Chicago Business Columnist Joe Cahill warned that unless guided by reality and past history, such efforts could be “a triumph of hope over experience”.
Before becoming a consultant, I was the department director for the Chicago suburban regional planning agency. If I were asked to design an ideal city-suburban economic development partnership starting from a blank sheet of paper, it would have, among other things, the following six characteristics:
1. Since most businesses are located within cities or villages, the partnership will be between Chicago and the county government, not between the County City Association.
2. There will be significant engagement from the business community, the population the partnership seeks to reach. Government partners listen to businesses tell them how to market the area to businesses.
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3. Due diligence is done before any plans are made. Specifically, a national study will examine whether any other metro areas have established such center city-suburban economic development alliances, and what can be learned from their successes or failures.
4. Domestically, companies in large, resource-rich, high-cost metro areas such as the Northeast and California will be targeted. The Chicago area can match or come close to them in terms of resources, but can beat them on price.
5. There will be plenty of advertising based on the best of the past, such as Ad Form, the work of David Ogilvy and two models from one of the largest advertisers in the automotive industry: American Motors factual comparison x-ray brochure and the original VW Beetle’s excellent graphic advertise.
6. Have realistic expectations of what will happen if the partnership is successful. Will the extra tax base still go to the winning municipality? If a coveted New York company made Crystal Lake their home, would they still be popping champagne at Chicago City Hall?
It seems that local officials here will not enjoy the benefits of a blank slate. Still, the initial optimism they widely shared was encouraging. But it will certainly be tested as they move from the vague intentions of today to the specifics of making things work.
John L. Gann, Jr., President, Gann Associates; former Director of Local Services, Northeast Illinois Planning Commission
Land swap for Waukegan airport runway is win-win
Waukegan National Airport is an important part of Lake County’s economic base and transportation system. It serves small businesses and corporations in Lake County, contributing $181 million to the local economy and directly supporting 900 jobs. It also provides essential services to emergency responders and healthcare providers, which is a key reason why many companies call Lake County a home base.
The Lake County Transportation Alliance has worked for many years to ensure that the airport continues to play a critical role in our county. Unfortunately, the airport’s aging runway has reached the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced because it does not meet current federal safety standards.
A recent editorial in The Sun Times dismissed some of the points about the plan. For the facts, visit www.waukegansafetyproject.com.
To comply with FAA safety standards, the new runway must have open space buffers at both ends. That’s why the Waukegan Port District (owners of the airport) needed to purchase 52 acres from the Lake County Forest Conservancy, which was overgrown with invasive sea buckthorn.
In exchange, the airport will restore much of the land to prairie status and help fund a new hiking and biking trail through the land of the nearby forest preserve, which will connect to the existing trail system that is not currently connected. It’s the “win-win project” that the editorial questioned, and it’s always been part of the plan.
Most of the funding for the project will come from federal grants earmarked for airport improvements, as well as airport user fees. No local taxes will be raised.
The plan was presented at a recent Lake County Forest Reserve Commission meeting. The entire airport project is subject to intense FAA scrutiny, including a full environmental assessment detailing the many conservation commitments made by the Waukegan Harbor District.
In short, there is a very compelling case for a land exchange that would lead to long-sought hiking and biking pilot connectivity, help restore the Waukegan savannah, and keep the airport safe, which is part of Lake County. An important part of the economy’s operations for decades to come.
Linda Soto, Executive Director, Lake County Transportation Alliance