By Cathy Yen
Businesses seek local help from three sources: municipal services, business district merchant associations and independent pro-business organizations.
The independent organizations fall into one of three categories: chamber of commerce, economic development and tourism. Sometimes these activities are handled by a single organization. Or, as is the case in Oak Park, they are distinct companies, each with their own board, management and funding.
The tourism group, sometimes called the "convention and visitors bureau," focuses on promoting local attractions and bringing tourists into the area to stay and spend. Here, our "Visit Oak Park" has oversight for twenty-two separate municipalities across the western suburbs. Visit Oak Park relies on three sources of funding: state and municipal dollars, tax on hotel stays and annual member dues. Although the organization promotes the area in general, it offers special promotion services to its member businesses.
The economic development team encourages and guides investment in the community. It can be a department of local government or an independent organization. The Village of River Forest handles business development internally through the Village Manager's office, with the help of a volunteer commission. Oak Park outsources development activities to the Oak Park Economic Development Company (OPEDC) and provides its funding. OPEDC is governed by an independent Board of Directors but works closely with the Village Manager's office and staff. OPEDC recommendations must be reviewed and vetted by the Board of Trustees.
The Chamber of Commerce focuses on the local economy and the businesses in it. We create community for local business people and help businesses access resources and make connections. The Chamber is funded solely by member dues and fundraising. Often, a chamber focuses on business retention, while economic development owns recruitment.
In some towns, a single organization will handle all three: chamber, development and tourism. In our community, the entities exist separate from each other, relying on strong relationships and intentional communication to stay in synch. While we have different missions, funding, management and relationships with Village Hall, we work together closely to ensure that businesses get the services they need.
Answer Book 2018
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