By Anna Lothson
Economic development has become a buzz phrase in local government, especially in Oak Park. But what does economic development really mean?
It starts with reinvestment, says Village Manager Cara Pavlicek.
"Economic development is about long term investment in the community," she said.
"For Oak Park it's very important that economic development is about maximizing property values within the community."
This means spurring community dialogue when it comes to private and public development, creating an "economic engine" for businesses so they are able to support each other. Most of all, however, she said it's about balancing uses within business districts.
Increased property valuation is first, but job creation comes next, Pavlicek said. Employing people in the community allows those people to spend money in the community, which creates a continuum for development.
"It helps defer the costs of other services by having a healthy economy," Pavlicek said.
Oak Park is hoping to jumpstart its own economy with the creation of the community and economic development department, which now includes four previously independent departments (Housing and CBDG programs; business services; village planning and building and property standards).
This new department, established with the 2013 budget, will also add a director-level position to oversee the four areas.
Pavlicek said this change is an update to Oak Park's organizational structure that the village has been attempting to address via the four other departments. Economic development work was also split among those groups, which created gaps in communication and a heavy workload of reports for the village manager's department. Essentially it created too many voices reporting on the same topic.
The new department will still be in charge of traditional economic duties such as land use, Tax Increment Financing district oversight, business recruitment and retention and permitting.
Pavlicek called the village's current organization structure "flat" because of the tough balance that each of the manager's face by not having one central person to report to on aspects of their jobs which relate to economic and community development. Pavlicek said workflow and services will improve by having one intake person for day-day-operations.
But economic development for Oak Park also means addressing the tax burden on residents, Pavlicek said.
"In local government, one of the challenges that happened is as the housing area bubbled and housing values rose at a much faster pace than the commercial properties, a lot of the tax burden in a lot of communities shifted more to the residential side," Pavlicek said. "And the cost of operating government, despite almost downsizing every department, the demand is still there. …So economic development has just become that kind of buzz word for 'how can we create a different source of revenue for local government outside of the property taxes.' "
Currently, she said competing needs put a strain on her and the other managers dealing with the "flat organization." But by addressing this deficit, Oak Park can consequently address other problem areas they've heard consistently from residents such as lag time in permit process and overall customer service.
Helping departments be more self-coordinated and not have to report so much to the village manager can help alleviate multiple problems at once, she said.
A job posting for the new community and economic director is expected to be sent out by the end of the month, Pavlicek said, and she anticipates a person will be hired within three to four months.
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