Here’s what it takes to partner in urban, suburban economic development

The city of Chicago and its suburbs announced in early January that they plan to work together in the Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership and boost business investment in the region like never before.

It’s a commendably great idea, though Crane’s Chicago business Columnist Joe Cahill warned that this effort could become a “triumph of hope over experience” if it is not guided by reality and history.

Before becoming a consultant, I was head of the Chicago Urban-Suburban Regional Planning Agency Department. If I were asked to design a good urban-suburban economic development partnership from a blank sheet of paper, it would have these six characteristics, among other things.

1. Because most businesses are located in cities or towns, the partnership is between the counties’ municipalities, not Chicago and the county governments.

2. There may be a high participation of the business community, trying to reach the partnership. They listen to government partners tell them how to sell the region to business.

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3. Before making any plan, due diligence was done. Specifically, a national survey will be conducted to determine whether any other metro areas have worked on such downtown-suburban economic development collaborations 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 may or may not be matched in resources, beating it in price.

5. There will be serious advertising based on x-ray booklets comparing the best past successes, such as advertising formats, the work of David Ogilvy and two models of the automobile industry, one of the great advertisers: American Motors. And a fantastic print ad of the original VW Beetle.

6. There will be realistic predictions of what will happen when collaborative efforts achieve success. Does the additional tax base still go to the winning municipality? If an ambitious company from New York found a home in Crystal Lake, would they still break out the champagne at Chicago City Hall?

It seems that the local authorities are not taking advantage of the benefits of clean paper. But the widely shared initial optimism is encouraging. But when you go from today’s vague purpose to making things work differently, you’re sure to be tempted.

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

Win it all for the Waukegan Airport runway change

Waukegan National Airport is a vital part of Lake County’s economic base and transportation system. It serves small businesses and companies in Lake County, contributing $181 million to the local economy and directly supporting 900 jobs. It also provides essential services for emergency responders and medical providers, and is a key reason many corporations call Lake County home.

The Lake County Transportation Alliance has been working for several years to ensure that the airport plays a key role in our county. Unfortunately, the airport’s aging runway has reached the end of its useful life and must be replaced because it does not meet current federal safety standards.

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

In order to comply with Federal Aviation Administration safety standards, open space protection zones must exist at both ends of the new runway. That’s why the Waukegan Port District (owner of the airport) needs to buy 52 acres from the Lake County Forest Preserve District overrun by invasive beechthorn.

In return, the airport will return much of the land to the Prairie State and fund a new hiking and biking trail through nearby forest preserve land, connecting existing trail systems that are not connected today. This is the “winning project” claimed by the editorial, and remains part of the plan.

Much of the funding for the project comes from federal grants for airport improvements as well as airport user fees. Local tax money is not collected.

The plan was presented at a recent Lake County Forest Preserve Board committee meeting. The entire airport project is subject to rigorous review by the FAA, including a thorough environmental assessment that outlines the many conservation commitments made by the Waukegan Port District.

In short, there is a very compelling case for a land exchange that would provide long-sought connectivity for walking and biking trails, help restore Waukegan Savannah, and secure an airport that is a vital part of Lake County’s economy. It will work for decades to come.

Linda Soto, executive director of the Lake County Transportation Alliance

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