Kendall County’s economic development efforts center on a county employee, a $15,000 budget, a handful of county board members and a 72-page plan.
The plan, approved in December after two public roundtables, looks to push the county’s economic development efforts beyond the $1.9 million revolving loan fund that saw some failed loans in past years as the economy plummeted.
The plan targets industrial and manufacturing growth, partially in hopes of attracting jobs that pay more than basic retail jobs and partially to avoid duplicating more local efforts, such as the , Oswego's village Economic Development Department and the Montgomery Economic Development Corporation.
The tasks may be relatively new for Kendall County, but economic development is important to middle-aged voters and young families, said Dan Koukol, who chairs the county board’s Economic Development Committee. Koukol believes his colleagues are committed to pushing forward with the plan.
“I think they figured out you have to have it,” Koukol said. “It’s demanded by the people.”
Their efforts initially focused on industrial parks and are drifting toward business retention. The highlights for the past six months – as listed by Koukol and John Sterrett, a county associate planner who spends part of his time on economic development - include:
- Starting to build a questionnaire for people who want to start their own businesses
- Developing a program to meet one-on-one with small business owners to see what problems they face and what the county can do to retain them
- Developed marketing brochures highlighting Kendall County
- Collected information on available industrial property. Those details ultimately will be placed on the county’s website through an interactive mapping program available through the state government
- Created maps emphasizing regional features, industrial zoning and industrial subdivisions
- Partnered with several other local economic development organizations for a job resource fair last month at Waubonsee Community College’s Plano campus. About 200 people and 30 employers attended.
Promoting the county – “continuing to let business people know we are here” – will be their biggest priority for the coming year, Koukol said.
Data in the county’s economic development plan shows Kendall County joins its neighbors in having some of the highest property taxes in the nation. But Kendall County also has relatively higher education rates, lower unemployment rates and explosive population growth between 2000 and 2010, according to the plan.
“I would love to see more of our Kendall County people work in Kendall County,” Koukol said. “I would love to see a Navistar or a business center here in Kendall County, because we have the education, we have the people, and there’s no reason we couldn’t have one of those. Companies are looking at us right now; they’re realizing the education level, the proximity.”
Koukol and Sterrett have a few more concrete ideas in the works, too.
The duo plans to attend the Association of Industrial Real Estate Brokers trade show again this year. They were the first county representatives to attend the show in September, and fielded several questions on where Kendall County sits and how far from Chicago it is, Sterrett said.
“That’s lot of what economic development is – just networking, building partnerships, getting to know people, keeping the lines of communication open,” Sterrett said.
Sterrett, a county employee, plans to finish the third of six seminars he needs to attend to become a certified economic developer through the International Economic Development Council this month. The certification process also requires passing a test, among other things.
Koukol also wants to host a business-marketing seminar, with information on local media, advertising venues such as billboards and Internet promotion. Many businesses were successful in past decades without spending much money or effort on marketing, but the poor economy demands it, Koukol said.
“I don’t care what business you are in,” Koukol said. “I don’t care if you’re selling paper clips or cleaning houses as a service, you have to market your business.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article contained a quote implying no one in the area was a certified economic developer. Patch regrets the error.