We're not sure if it is the speed with which Oak Park is radically remaking its economic development team or the consensus among village board members on its key features that most pleases us.
After decades in which no one was very happy with the efforts to grow Oak Park's business economy, it took a new village president, Anan Abu-Taleb, with fresh eyes and a business background to come on the stage and say, "This simply isn't good enough."
The perpetual confusion and contention between staffs at the Oak Park Development Corporation and village hall over lines of responsibility, limits of activity, and accountability for intractable problems made for a maddening situation and a lot of finger pointing. Layer on that a political process of commissions and public hearings, board grandstanding and politics, and we have, far too often, seen simple inertia wrapping a piñata of frenetic actions.
While Oak Park has had its development successes, we have let opportunities both small and considerable pass us by; we have made endless plans that have kept consultants busy and enriched brickmakers. But we have failed to create a culture that says simply and clearly that we welcome business.
Now the village board is redefining and reshaping multiple aspects of economic development. The staff at village hall that works with businesses is being united under new leadership in Tammie Grossman. Those functions are being narrowed and studied for efficiencies and measurement.
OPDC is being shaken and stirred with new staff, new latitude to drive development, new board members, a semi-new name (OPEDC), more money from taxpayers and a curious mix of autonomy from village hall and intense oversight from village leaders.
When it meets next week, the Oak Park village board is expected to approve the remade OPEDC. In an encouraging sign of collegiality, the details of the plan were crafted by leaders from OPDC and the village government. Final funding, at a level twice what is currently provided, is not yet guaranteed, though members of the village board now seem united in seeing this as an essential investment. Paying more for key people, offering opportunities for bonuses for measured success is a culture shock. And that's what this situation calls for — a culture shock.
As in all such situations, crafting a plan is a good start. But the success here will be created only after hiring the right people.
Finally, village leaders can enjoy, for a moment, their progress on reordering village business staff and remaking OPDC. But the trifecta will not be achieved on the major development side until a fix is also created for focusing and shortening the zoning and plan commission aspects of winning approval to build in Oak Park.