Oak Park village manager: Economic development can fix structural issues

New director to be hired by end of year

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

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.

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 13th, 2013 12:17 PM

Glad to read the Village Manager is focused on the need to employ people in the community. Let's see if the board agrees and offers real support by encouraging outreach,support and recruitment of local businesses to participate in the bidding process for Village contracts.


Posted: July 13th, 2013 9:09 AM

Once we make that shift, there should be people who actually built business and created value - not government employees who have unlimited funds and never met a payroll. Also, there needs to the a strategy - i.e. what type of businesses, why OP?, how to create incentives. Not trying to be negative but this is not very well thought out and will likely get nowhere.


Posted: July 13th, 2013 9:06 AM

Economic development in OP is an oxymoron. As someone who tried to invest half a million in business in OP location, we could not get a return call. When we did, we were met with paperwork and told 4 years to complete a project (2 for zoning and permits!). Let's be honest - unless there is a culture shift from the top, this is a waste of time and energy. OP lacks the hustle and hunger of Berwyn and Forest Park and are far too full of ourselves to do what needs to get done.

bla bla bla  

Posted: July 10th, 2013 11:31 PM

Bla, bla, bla. Bla, bla, bla, bla. Bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.


Posted: July 10th, 2013 11:10 PM

"Flat" is Pavlicek's code for her desire to turn Oak Park into a military organization with her as the general. Instead of a capable economic development director, she will get someone she can control who will then disable the rest of the work force. Don't let her do it!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 9th, 2013 11:42 PM

The fact that an added headcount was needed for economic development indicates that the savings in overlap of the four employees jobs did not amount to enough to avoid an additional headcount. So what exactly is the director going to do? It is worth remembering that a lot of OP's financial chaos came from bad development - TIF's, the slow acceptance of the Post 9-11 recession, the failure to react to the housing bust for several years, the poor grasp of how severe the Recession of 2008 would be on OP, and how slow the recovery? Will the new director have sufficient "economic experience" to analyze and forecast conditions and to provide the board with strategic direction on the vagaries of the federal, state, and local economy? Will we end the decade of economic advise that is little more than "Economically, everything is OK, we have a handle on it?

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