Economic development plan for Illinois regions on its way - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Economic development plan for Illinois regions on its way

DCEO's Jack Lavin unveiled hints of what's to come in the governor's "Opportunity Returns" economic plan for the Chicago region.

The long-awaited “Opportunity Returns” program, Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s economic development program for 10 regions around the state, should arrive in Chicago in May or June. And it should be worth the wait, said Jack Lavin, director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Lavin, who addressed nearly 600 guests at the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce’s “Local to Global” annual dinner on Jan. 29, 2004, spoke at length about the administration’s “Opportunity Returns” rollout and how it will impact south suburban communities and business. Gov. Blagojevich’s team has broken the state into 10 regions because a “one-size-fits-all approach won’t work,” he said.

Even though the Chicago region projects have yet to be unveiled, Lavin highlighted how DCEO had already been involved in Southland efforts, working to re-open the shuttered Calumet Steel in Chicago Heights, and awarding more than $130,000 in Digital Divide grants to local community tech centers. He cited the Southland’s Healthcare Forum to train more healthcare workers as an opportunity to partner with DCEO on their Critical Skills Shortage Initiative. State funding for job training directly for small businesses, as well as supporting consortium job training efforts, is necessary, Lavin said.

He congratulated the Village of Bridgeview on securing the new stadium for the Chicago Fire soccer franchise, and promised his office would continue to work with local manufacturers there to capitalize on investment. Lavin went on to praise the Southland’s new Pool Bond program, saying it was a unique economic development tool, and pledged continued collaboration between the Illinois Trade Office and the Chamber with foreign trade ventures. In addition, he hinted at an imminent announcement that Ford that would add some 300 jobs soon, helping grow the economy of the region.

The strategy with “Opportunity Returns” is to develop a plan with specific actions for each region. Lavin previewed what DCEO is focusing on:

  • Infrastructure projects — specifically, transportation and sewer and water projects; 
  • Manufacturing modernization — including incentive programs to small and mid-size businesses to improve competitiveness and efficiencies; 
  • Workforce development initiatives — especially those that result in job creation; 
  • Brownfield redevelopment and remediation — such as was done at the Ford plant and Joliet Arsenal; and 
  • Creative use of existing programs including EDGE (Economic Development for a Growing Economy), CDAP (Community Development Assistance Program) and the Enterprise Zone Financing Program.

Lavin concluded by raising awareness of the Illinois Opportunity Fund, saying it was the state’s top economic development priority this legislative session, with venture capital and $200 million in funds critical to keeping Illinois competitive. It is imperative to get the project moving, he said, because the state is already behind Iowa and Michigan in this area.

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