With eye on equity, village OKs new business support programs

? Five new programs will assist in marketing campaign, administrative staff and grants.

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By KATHARINE GRAYSON

For over a year, Oak Park has debated?#34;both on and off the campaign trail?#34;whether certain business districts get more attention than others, and, more importantly, how government can better assist businesses village-wide.

Debate on the issue began at the village board table during the last budget cycle, when trustees decided to deny The Avenue Business Association's request for continued funding. At the time, the board asked staff to develop new business support programs, so as to help eliminate ad hoc funding requests from various individual districts.

The result is a package of five new programs?#34;with a total budget allocation of $84,500?#34;which was approved unanimously by the village board in late March.

"This is the first step at providing support for all business districts," said Loretta Daly, village business services manager, who developed the programs.

One of the key new programs, Daly said, is a marketing assistance initiative. The program will provide dollars to the newly-formed Business Association Council's marketing committee, including $14,000 for a "branding" campaign. The council includes representatives from districts throughout Oak Park, the Chamber of Commerce, Visitors Bureau, Oak Park Development Corporation and the village.

Part of the council's "branding" effort will include developing a web site that will feature information about business districts throughout the village, Daly said.

The program also includes hiring a part time marketing assistant to work on developing marketing and web content. The village's monetary and part-time staff support of the new organization is, however, expected to be temporary, and will only last until the program gathers momentum, according to a memo from Daly to the board.

The village's business services department is also looking to hire another part time administrative assistant to work with all individual districts. The assistant would manage membership data, mailings, event coordination, and take on general duties.

In addition, the village will now offer grants to existing and prospective businesses interested in conducting a "retail analysis." The consulting firm Business Districts, Inc. helps businesses develop a "plan of action" for boosting a retailer's success. The program typically costs $600 to complete, and the village is planning to offer $300 to retailers who apply for the program.

Enough money?#34;$6,000?#34;to provide 20 businesses with grants has been set aside.

Grants will also be provided to help individual districts purchase seasonal décor. This year, the village will fund décor of up to 90 percent of the cost up to $5,000. The amount of support will then be scaled back through 2008, dropping by 25 percent each year.

Dollars for the assistance programs will come out of the village's property acquisition opportunity fund, which is often used to buy property outside of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts.

CONTACT:kgrayson@wjinc.com

Five new business support programs to be offered by the village include:

? Creation of a Business Association Council, which includes representatives from business districts throughout the village, Oak Park Development Corporation, and others.

? Financial and staff support of an effort to market Oak Park as a shopping destination.

? Grants of $300 for each business seeking to undergo a "retail analysis." Money is available for 20 businesses.

? Grants for districts to purchase seasonal décor. A budget of $35,000 has been established for this program.

? Administrative support for individual business districts.

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