County, municipalities consider future of economic development

Brock A. Stein | 10/28/2015, 6:40 p.m.
Will County officials this month discussed how to best use their funding for economic development as they plan for future ...

Will County officials this month discussed how to best use their funding for economic development as they plan for future growth around the county.

Prior to a vote to fund the Will County Center for Economic Development, some board members called for a re-evaluation of the monetary support given to the organization and whether it was the best way to handle economic development moving forward.

“What is the best way for the county to be involved in economic development?” asked county board member Jim Moustis who still moved ahead with a vote to fund the CED to the tune of $100,000 for the next year.

Other options proposed included bringing an in-house economic development specialist under the Will County banner though that notion was criticized by executive Larry Walsh who pointed to recent successes that CED President/CEO, John Greuling and his non-profit organization has had a hand in bringing to Will County including an Amazon distribution warehouse and Ikea facility among others. Walsh called it Grueling’s work “behind the scenes making that happen.”

“For what we pay the CED that would only be a drop in the bucket,” said Walsh of the funding, adding that the expense would be even higher for a Will County staff to handle the work he does which he said covers everything from Bolingbrook to Wilmington.

“We wouldn’t even begin to have enough money to put an office together,” he said.

Even with Will County’s share of funding the CED secured for the next year, Moustis said that the board may conduct a “broader discussion of whether to expand economic development efforts by the county” and a look at the way that economic development “roles are changing.”

Those changing roles in addition to an economy that looks to be ready to begin growing more robustly again may be why economic development is on the minds of officials in Plainfield as well.

In an initial budget draft unveiled in October, the village is considering the hiring of an economic development specialist, the first of 3 possible full-time new hires the village could make since the recession and massive layoffs occurred in 2009.

The village employed an economic development director in the late 1990s and early 2000’s before replacing the position with The Plainfield Economic Partnership (PEP) in 2005. At the time, the village contributed about $75,000 annually for funding of the organization according to archived public meeting minutes. Funding from the village was cut for the organization during the economic downturn and the PEP board was replaced in 2010 with the Plainfield Economic Taskforce, which includes business and other leaders from the area.

During a budget meeting in October, Plainfield Trustee Garrett Peck supported the idea for the position calling it “key” and one that would pay for itself by helping to generate “sales tax and property tax” as a result.

Generating a broader local tax base could be more important than ever going in to the 2016 budget year as municipalities eye funding from the state with a healthy dose of skepticism.