By Greg Hinz – Crain’s Chicago Business
In an unusual display of regional unity, top elected officials from the metropolitan area today are scheduled to announce a new, joint effort to spur economic development in the Chicago metro area.
Officials including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and DuPage County Board Chair Deb Conroy are unveiling what’s being billed as an initiative to improve the region’s global competitiveness by presenting a common pitch to the outside world, rather than competing with each other.
The initiative, to be known as the Greater Chicago Economic Partnership, will have a limited time and budget to prove itself, with the group staked to get $3 million over an initial, three-year pilot period.
The stated goal in that period is rather modest: generate 150 pro-Chicago area decisions and 500 shared new investment opportunities; develop a common regional pitchbook; and expand the city’s development unit, World Business Chicago, into some suburban activity.
But even that would be a major change from the recent past, in which the city and suburbs openly feuded over things such as the proposed Illiana Expressway and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel gloried in raiding the headquarters of large, suburban-based corporations.
“Business leaders nowadays, they don’t look at the city limits,” said WBC chief Michael Fassnacht, whose agency will manage the new partnership in cooperation with county development groups. “They want to be part of a larger economy.”
Added Fassnacht in a phone interview, “We all agreed, we need to work more closely together.”
“A strong region is the best for a strong DuPage (County),” said Greg Bedalov, CEO of Choose DuPage, that county’s development unit.
Kyle Schulz, WBC’s executive vice president of business development and global strategy, said officials increasingly have learned that cooperating is better than fighting. He pointed to a firm that was unable to find the large site in Chicago it wanted for a 500,000-square-foot production facility. WBC referred it to a sister agency, and the firm now is up and operating in the south suburbs with hundreds of workers, Schulz said.
The Chicago area has blown hot and cold on regional approaches, depending on the political climate.
For instance, former Mayor Richard M. Daley formed a council of mayors he used to regularly consult, but its influence gradually dissipated. Daley was able to get DuPage County to drop its decade-old opposition to adding new runways at O’Hare International Airport in exchange for promised western access to the airfield, but the expressway now under construction will go only to O’Hare’s western edge and not inside, except for an employee parking lot.
Still, the Regional Transportation Authority, which funds the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace, has achieved relative peace in recent years after earlier intense squabbling. And other regions like the Twin Cities have been able to harmonize their development plans.
Among members of the partnership at the city: Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, along with county development groups.