Ald. Tom Tunney speaks with George Miller, of Sipi Metals, during an informal tour on Tuesday after meeting with the Chicago Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Economic Development.
Owners of businesses and industries were relieved to learn that the City of Chicago has no plans to alter permissible uses in the North Branch Industrial Corridor’s Planned Manufacturing Districts (PMDs). Andrew Mooney, Chicago Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Economic Development, attended a listening tour on December 6th with Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), chair of the City Council Economic Development Committee, to hear why LEED Council’s firms have chosen Chicago for their business and what frustrations they have experienced in operating in Chicago.
The meeting was hosted by Sipi Metals Corp. in the Elston Corridor PMD and included representatives of Concept Laboratories, WaterSaver Faucet, Goose Island Beer Company, General Iron, Howe Corporation, Bigane Paving Co. and C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.
During the positive discussion, Mooney learned that a primary issue for firms continues to be the certainty of future uses in PMDs to assure land use compatibility as well as affordability for business expansion. “There’s no grand scheme for the area other than to maintain the PDM,” Mooney reassured. “The city is not looking for a new look,” Tunney said, adding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is interested in reinvesting so there’s more production and more employees in Chicago. He encouraged businesses owners to invite Emanuel to upcoming openings and events.
Attendees explained to Commissioner Mooney and the aldermen that they choose to stay in the corridor because they are invested in their facilities. “Our success is here, right here,” said General Iron owner Marilyn Labkon. Heavy industry companies, such as Bigane Paving Co., stay in Chicago because they are committed to providing “head of household” jobs for people who live locally; WaterSaver Faucet and C.H. Robinson are able to leverage their central location to recruit talent; and Goose Island Beer Company sees their location as key to their brand.
Attendees agreed that besides support from the city, there needs to be zoning enforcement to deter buying land for uses not permitted in the PMD (such as auto sales) and residential uses. Buyers sometimes purchase land in the corridor without knowing that they will be close to noisy trucks and vehicles.
“There are people in this area that give potential buyers false hope,” Waguespack said. He emphasized that zoning needs to be carefully crafted, and he never tells buyers there will be changes to the PMD when they purchase property. “Possible intrusion into PMDs can cause a lot of problems,” he said.
Other operating issues concerning the businesses include the lack of broadband and, most importantly, the poor infrastructure surrounding them. Marion Cameron, president of Sipi Metals, said the City needs to invest in better streets and sidewalks to improve vital transportation for businesses and make the area look good.
Tony Bowker, COO of Goose Island Beer Company, agrees. Transportation is valuable for his company’s expansion as well as to import and export products and materials. He hopes the brewery will eventually be able to invite people on site for tours, but the brewery is currently limited by space and lack of entry options.
Officials were in agreement that the City needed to promote its existing PMDs by further organizing economic development. Michael Jasso, the Department’s Managing DeputyCommissioner, shared that Chinese visitors always ask, “What’s Chicago’s industrial plan?”
After the tour, George Phillips, Sipi Metals’ Environmental and Regulatory
Officer, gave a tour of their facility and explaining the key role in the firm plays in recycling in a global economy.