It’s easy for all of us to agree that we want more jobs paying higher wages in Kane County.
The harder question is what can county government do to foster an economic climate where privately-owned companies can prosper by generating these jobs?
The first good answer is not to just start spending taxpayer dollars on a nebulous mission of “economic development.” Instead, two of our conscientious board members, Theresa Barreiro (D-Aurora) and Becky Gillam (R-W. Dundee) will serve as bi-partisan co-chairmen of the Jobs (!) Committee to tackle his challenge.
There are at least six priority tasks that don’t cost additional money that contribute to our mutual goal …
(1) Continue the Turnaround of Our Workforce Investment Board (WIB)
Forty (40) WIB members from diverse backgrounds such as employers, educators, labor organizations and training specialists are responsible to spend $5.5 million to $6 million of federal job-training funds in Kane, Kendall and DeKalb Counties annually that is allocated by the State of Illinois.
There is a minefield of complex Washington and Springfield regulations that must be understood and adhered to. With the introduction of new members and effective leadership over the past year, internal strife on the board has been substantially reduced and board members are getting accurate information regarding program progress.
Director of Office of Community Re-Investment Scott Berger and Assistant Director of Workforce Development Renee Thompson Renken have done an excellent job of simplifying, streamlining and focusing all of us in this area. A fresh commitment to collaboration, transparency and productivity is protecting this annuity of nearly $6 million per year in training investment in our residents.
(2) Participate in Cook and Six Collar Counties’ Regional Coordination of Regional Economic Development
We are fortunate to be working together at a time when Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin, Lake County Chairman Aaron Lawlor, Will County Executive Larry Walsh, Kendall County Chairman John Shaw, McHenry County Chairman Joseph Gottemoller and I have respect and affection for each other. This has led to an unprecedented coordination of Northeastern Illinois regional economic development efforts.
To be sure that something actually gets done, the scope of work has been narrowed to three areas: consistent regulation of truck transportation through the Cook and Collar Counties hub, increasing exports competitiveness from our region, and a concentration on specialized metals technology for advanced manufacturing.
Barreiro and Gillam join these regional commercial initiatives, which increase jobs and wage growth …without asking taxpayers to pay additional money!
(3) Support Local Government and Chambers of Commerce Rather than Compete Against Them
Not everybody needs to be a “Chief;” it’s OK for county government to serve our constituent cities and villages which have economic development efforts. We want to assist and cooperate, rather than duplicate and compete.
However, when there is a question regarding county procedures and/or development regulations, Mark VanKerkhoff, director of Kane County Development and Community Services Department, is our single-point contact at 630-232-3480 and VanKerkhoffMark@co.kane.il.us.
(4) Learn Economic Development ‘Best Practices’ From Private-Public Partnerships
Before we spend money, we should have a clear, concise concept of what we’re buying and how we’ll measure performance once we move forward. Rather than government dictating what constituent employers should want, we should listen and follow the lead of employers who actually “make payroll” every two weeks. They’re experts, we’re not. However, we can provide collective resources and infrastructures which helps all employers … and employees.
Choose DuPage, Lake County Partners, and Aurora’s Seize the Future are all regional examples that we can learn from rather than reinventing the wheel. A significant portion of the financial resources needed to run these organizations are provided by privately-owned businesses — rather than taxpayers — because they lead the efforts rather than follow government direction. Again, not everyone needs to be the “Chief”…it’s OK to play a supporting role.
(5) Recognize Kane County ‘Sparklers’
Along with the Human Services Committee and Kane County Connects, the Jobs Committee members can recognize the essential contributions that our employers make to our community’s welfare. Rather than feeling like cash cows milked for taxes in so many different forms, and then being reseated by political demagogues when they finally succeed, our businesses ought to be sparkling examples that are recognized, appreciated and emulated by present and future aspirants who want to eventually join their ranks.
(6) Answer the Question: ‘Why Kane County?’
It doesn’t cost us a penny to be smart and to identify Kane County Advantages (!). Think fiber optics, extensive infrastructure, affordable diversity in our workforce and housing and, of course, the easily-accessible natural beauty that comes from coordinated health, transportation and development planning.
Although I may not agree with a lot of our president’s political philosophies, I agree that we are brought together as a community and people by our common desire for widespread economic prosperity. He was right when he said there are no such things as “Democrat jobs or Republican jobs, just American jobs!”
Kane County Board Chairman