Here’s what it will take for city, suburbs to partner on economic development

The City of Chicago and its suburban counties announced in early January their intention to work together in the Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership to expand business investment in the region in unprecedented ways.

It’s a laudable and ambitious idea, Crane’s Chicago Business Columnist Joe Cahill warns that unless guided by reality and past history, the effort can become “a triumph of hope over experience.”

Prior to becoming a consultant, he was divisional director for the City of Chicago and suburban area planning agency. When asked to design an ideal urban-suburban economic development partnership to start from scratch, he has six characteristics in particular:

1. Since most businesses are located in cities and villages, the partnership is between the municipality’s county associations rather than between Chicago and county governments.

2. There will be a large involvement of the business community, the people the partnership will reach out to. Government partners will listen to business on how to market the region to business.

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3. Due diligence is done before planning. Specifically, a national study will be conducted on whether other metropolitan areas have made such central city-suburb economic development alliances work and what can be learned from their successes or failures. I guess.

4. Domestically, it targets companies in large, resource-rich, high-cost metropolitan areas like the Northeast and California. The Chicago area can match or nearly match them on resources while beating them on price.

5. Advertorial format, works by David Ogilvy, and lots of ads based on past best performances, including two models from one of the biggest advertisers in the auto industry: American Motors Facts Comparison X-ray booklet Original VW Beetle brilliant print ad.

6. There will be realistic expectations of what will happen when partnership efforts are successful. Will the additional tax base go to the winner’s local government? Even if New York’s coveted firm finds a home in Crystal Lake, will it blow champagne at Chicago City Hall?

Local officials here don’t seem to reap the benefits of a blank sheet of paper. But it will surely be tested as they move from today’s vague intentions to the details of making things work.

John L. Gann Jr., President of Gann Associates.Former Director of Regional Services for the Northeast Illinois Planning Commission

A Win-Win Land Exchange for Waukegan Airport Runways

Waukegan National Airport is an important part of Lake County’s economic infrastructure and transportation system. Serving small businesses and businesses in Lake County, he contributes $181 million to the local economy and directly supports 900 jobs. It also provides essential services to emergency responders and healthcare providers, and is a primary reason so many businesses call Lake County home.

The Lake County Transportation Alliance has been working for several years to ensure that the airport continues to play an important role in the county. Unfortunately, the airport’s aging runway has reached the end of its useful life, does not comply with current federal safety standards, and must be replaced.

A recent Sun-Times editorial dismissed some key points about the plan. Facts are available at

To comply with Federal Aviation Administration safety standards, an open space buffer zone is required at each end of the new runway. That’s why the Waukegan Port District (airport owner) needs to purchase 52 acres of land that contains invasive buckthorn in large quantities from the Lake County Forest Reserve.

In exchange, the airport will restore most of the land to prairie status and fund new hiking and biking trails through land in nearby forest reserves. This connects existing trail systems that are not currently linked. This was the “win-win project” the editorial called into question, and it was part of the plan all along.

Most of the funding for this project comes from federal grants for airport improvements and airport user fees. Local taxes are not collected.

The plan was recently announced at a meeting of the Lake County Forestry Commission. The entire airport project is subject to rigorous review by the FAA. This includes a full environmental assessment detailing the many conservation efforts undertaken by the Waukegan Port District.

In short, the land exchange will bring long-needed connectivity for hiking and biking endeavors, help restore Waukegan Savannah, and secure the airport, a vital part of Lake County’s economy. There is a very compelling case to keep. It will work for decades to come.

Linda Soto, Executive Director, Lake County Transportation Alliance

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