On February 29th, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Chicago’s new “Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs,” developed by World Business Chicago, at a press conference hosted by WaterSaver Faucet, a member of the Local Economic and Employment Development [LEED] Council.
Mayor Emanuel acknowledged that Chicago needs direction for job creation. “A global city like Chicago needs a clear set of goals, a clear framework for analysis and clear strategies for economic growth and the creation of jobs,” said Mayor Emanuel. “By establishing these, the business community can work in conjunction with labor, the public sector and the nonprofit community to execute together and achieve these objectives. This is an important step in that direction and I am looking forward to incorporating the public’s input and comment as we develop this vision for our economic future, enabling the creation of more of the jobs that our city needs.”
Crain’s Chicago Business’ March 5th editorial – “The devil in Rahm’s plan? Lack of details”– labeled the plan the “public-policy equivalent of hitting the Facebook ‘Like’ button.” Crain’s calls for putting “some muscle behind the message” and “some specific ideas on how to get it done.” Since World Business Chicago designed the plan as “an ongoing, living process that welcomes collaboration,” I offer a few observations to be more linked in.
Consider WaterSaver owner Steve Kersten’s perspective. He shared via email that the City of Chicago and, in particular, Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr (27th Ward) and the Mayor’s Office have been supportive of his efforts to rebuild and expand his manufacturing plant at Erie and Halsted Streets. “The Mayor clearly understands the importance of manufacturing to the Chicago economy,” Kersten wrote. “He also appears to be committed to helping provide manufacturing companies with what they need to remain here, which is planning and zoning policies that reserve space for manufacturing companies, a well-functioning city government and a skilled and educated work force.”
Steve’s got that right. First, it’s all about zoning. Both WaterSaver’s headquarters on Erie Street and its Guardian Equipment manufacturing plant on Goose Island were available for business growth because they are located respectively in the Chicago/Halsted and the Goose Island Planned Manufacturing Districts (PMDs). Drafters of new plans sometimes forget about pre-existing tools that have not only been effective but remain relevant for the future.
Second, we do need to create demand-driven and targeted workforce development. That’s why with City TIF-support, LEED Council has created Worklocal.org to connect employers with local job seekers; and we are now expanding it to more employers and more targeted communities.
As the plan warns, Chicago’s economic future is threatened by traffic congestion and aging infrastructure. That’s why LEED Council has been working with our aldermen and City departments for years through quarterly meetings of our North River Corridor Infrastructure Task Force to prioritize infrastructure projects that improve functionality for our local businesses. From stop lights to bridges to bike paths, traffic needs to flow better and more efficiently.
Our corridor demonstrates how Chicago can be a center for business headquarters and key facilities with Wrigley’s Global Innovation Center, two major logistics firms and additional sites available for business expansion. These locations have access to public transit without being located downtown. The map of our economic turf highlights eight current business expansions and eleven sites available for more growth.
The plan highlights energy efficiency as an example of next-generation infrastructure. Retrofitting buildings can save costs and create jobs. With State funding, LEED Council is training a new generation of energy auditors and energy-efficiency installers. With a couple more public policy initiatives, the private demand for energy efficiency and renewable energy could be significantly increased.
Neighborhood investment remains vital. We need to rebuild Chicago’s communities that have been devastated by Wall Street. Unemployed residents can be trained and employed to rebuild their own communities. With jobs, Chicagoans can afford housing and shop for their families.
When implementing this plan, or any future strategies that evolve, the City must focus on growing businesses so jobs are created. Delegate agencies of the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development, such as ours, already have local businesses engaged. Now is the time for World Business Chicago to reconnect locally.
The Local Economic and Employment Development Council looks forward to working with Mayor Emanuel and World Business Chicago to assure that, as we look globally, we continue to work locally for business expansion and attraction to deliver more jobs for Chicago residents.
Ted Wysocki, President & CEO
Local Economic & Employment Development Council
Read the summary, full plan and submit your comments here