How do you bring businesses and jobs to Kendall County? What is it about the county that attracts companies, and what aspects of the county may drive them away?
County Board Member Dan Koukol is wrestling with those questions, as chair of the Economic Development Committee. And who better to answer them, he figured, than the business leaders already here?
That’s the thinking behind the series of economic roundtables Koukol and his committee have been hosting at Whitetail Golf Club in Yorkville. At the debut roundtable in May, Koukol asked the roughly 50 assembled professionals how to make the county more business-friendly.
On Tuesday morning, the committee unveiled the results of their work to a room full of mainly the same people, and asked for input.
Associate Planner John Sterrett listed off several strengths and weaknesses of the county that business leaders pointed out. In the plus column: close proximity to highway, rail and air transportation; the Fox River corridor; and the comparatively high level of education in Kendall County.
Minuses include high taxes, limited access to direct interstate highways, lack of access to Lake Michigan water, and loss of manufacturing jobs to surrounding communities. Sterrett also mentioned a “lack of state leadership” on economic development, and reductions in funding for infrastructure and job training.
Koukol said the committee would focus on industrial and office jobs, since local economic development corporations are “doing a good job tracking retail.” The committee has drafted a five-year plan, with priorities ordered into three tiers.
Among the top priorities: drafting a county-wide transportation plan, improving access to fiber optic services, developing a website and brochures to promote the county, and increasing presence at trade shows. Further down the list: organizing county-wide job fairs, improving access to utilities, and creating an entrepreneurship program, to be administered by the county.
Attendees agreed that transportation is a big issue. Charlene Coulombe-Fiore, executive director of the Montgomery Economic Development Corporation, noted that several rail lines would be expanding in the next couple years, from Aurora down to LaSalle County.
Angelo Kleronomos, president of Property Concepts Inc. of Oswego, called transportation “the single largest issue.” He said the county needs a rail stop, particularly with rising gas prices, and said the long-gestating Prairie Parkway is “essential.”
“Population growth is at a standstill,” Kleronomos said, “and it will probably stay there until transportation needs are fulfilled.”
State Sen. Linda Holmes pledged her support for the Prairie Parkway, suggesting that the road could attract a community around it. In fact, she said, that’s the way community planning should work: “Build a road, and then build around it,” she said.
Holmes also made mention of the many state legislators that share Kendall County, saying that gives Kendall a wider and stronger voice.
And attorney John Philipchuck suggested some of the development fees in place around the county could be pared down, to encourage growth.
“We will come out of this,” Philipchuck said of the current economic situation. “It will get better, and if we can come out of this ahead of everyone else in planning, that will give us a leg up on many other counties.”
Koukol said the County Board would get a look at his committee’s five-year plan sometime before the end of the year. Another economic roundtable is scheduled for early 2012.