Morton Grove tells industry leaders to prepare for growth

Nancy Radzevich, director of community and economic development, reviews a map of industrial areas with Burr Martin of Regis Technologies during a July 11 meet and greet. | Rick Kambic~Sun-Times Media
Morton Grove Mayor Dan DiMaria talks to representatives from industrial and manufacturing companies about his plans to bolster their sector of the local economy. | Rick Kambic~Sun-Times Media
Representatives from more than two dozen industrial and manufacturing companies listened quietly to the village presentation without providing public feedback. | Rick Kambic~Sun-Times Media
Joseph McKeown, left, from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity networked with local businesses about getting tax credit for creating jobs. | Rick Kambic~Sun-Times Media

Morton Grove is working on plans to bolster its industrial areas, but first officials need to talk to the people that work there.

They did that last week, at a July 11 meet-and-greet where village officials and a team of strategists teased an upcoming economic development project.

The village wouldn’t talk about the plan, which won’t be released to the public until September. But officials said they hope the public projects will be augmented by private development.

Nancy Radzevich, the village’s director of community and economic development, said everyone can get the best bang for their buck by working together on common needs and recognizing available resources.

Radzevich suggested that companies consider establishing business districts where neighboring companies with similar challenges meet to share ideas with each other and village liaisons so that potential upcoming work could be more effective.

Mayor Dan DiMaria said retail often takes center stage because it brings sales tax. However, he said industrial businesses bring valuable jobs to residents and drives home sales from out-of-town employees moving closer to work.

“I’m grateful to have this much industry in town and I promise you, we have things in the works to help all our business sectors,” DiMaria said.

One such plan is to develop a downtown near the Metra station and along Lincoln Avenue, less than a mile from many of Morton Grove’s industrial complexes on Lehigh Avenue. DiMaria said the downtown would have mixed residential, business and transportation assets.

“It may not be tomorrow or next year, but it’s going to happen and it’ll make coming to work more pleasant for your employees,” DiMaria said.

Though specific village plans will not become public until September, the team of strategists reviewed data they’ve already collected on Morton Grove’s industrial areas and asked the companies to start networking.

Representatives from more than two dozen companies sat quietly and absorbed the information but did not speak openly about their feelings.

The “industrial areas plan” is being created with help from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) — a federally-funded organization that helps communities navigate population growth in the six northeast counties of Illinois.

In February, the team of planners presented a report explaining the condition of Morton Grove’s 19 acres of industrial land along Waukegan Road near Golf Road and the 231 acres of industrial area along Lehigh Avenue between Oakton and Main Streets.

That same data was displayed and briefly explained during the July 11 open house with business owners, many of who knew nothing about the project.

Nicole Woods, one of the CMAP planners, said Morton Grove’s industrial area has a 6.7 percent vacancy rate, which is reportedly lower than the seven-to-10 percent in Skokie, Niles and Lincolnwood. She also said approximately 60 percent of jobs in Morton Grove are in manufacturing or distribution.

Though 2,741 Morton Grove-based manufacturing jobs were lost in the last decade, Woods said job loss has bottomed out and is on a steady, slow rise. Her report suggests supporting industrial growth instead of converting the land to retail.

Sewers and transportation, according to the report, are strengths for business attraction and retention. The report says studies and interviews revealed virtually no flooding in those industrial areas, and access to major highways and roads is “excellent.”

The upcoming final report will propose ways for Morton Grove to compete with other towns in the area, financial incentives to attract industry and other factors such as training for workers and transportation services.

The Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center — a public-private consortium — also offered its services to business owners. Linda Green, a development specialist, said her organization can help businesses avoid layoffs by planning for growth with repurposed laborers.

“A major goal of ours is to make sure businesses actually gain profit when they boost revenue,” Green said.

One IMAP study claims 60 percent of Illinois manufacturing companies are planning to change management in the next five years. Green said she helps companies build transition plans before deals become final, assuring both parties — and the local government — that the company will survive.

Ultimately, Green said Illinois ranks fourth among all U.S. states in industrial job creations between 2009 and 2012.

Joseph McKeown from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity followed by describing tax credits businesses can get for creating jobs or hiring veterans. He also shared details on federal money that businesses can borrow for company expansions.

“We plan to utilize everyone and everything under to sun to execute these upgrades for current and future businesses,” Radzevich said. “Today’s plan was to get these businesses engaged and aware that change is on the way.”

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