Organization strives to promote industry

By Michael Berg

The staff is small, but the goals are large in the business of attracting and retaining industry in DeKalb County.

The DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC) was incorporated in 1987 to promote the area and attract new business and industry, as well as helping existing businesses expand, said Roger Hopkins, executive director of DCEDC.

“We are a non-profit organization staffed by two full-time people and one person part-time,” Hopkins said. “The policy is set by a 40-member board of directors.”

In 1992, DCEDC responded to over 871 inquiries from businesses for information and service, according to the corporation’s 1992 calendar year report.

Also in 1992, DCEDC reached the goal of being a more private than public institution. “Support coming from private sources was 55 percent, while government support was 45 percent of our contributions,” Hopkins said.

When DCEDC was founded in 1987 the only existing full-time professional economic development program in the county was in DeKalb, Hopkins said. Sycamore and some smaller communities,

such as Genoa, had part-time programs.

“The county board chairman, with business and government leaders from around the county, started (DCEDC) to centralize efforts of attracting new business and retaining business already here,” Hopkins said.

DCEDC’s goals tie in with DeKalb’s upcoming mayoral election. Both 2nd Ward Alderman Michael Welsh and DeKalb Mayor Greg Sparrow have put major emphasis on the importance of continued growth in this area.

In the “DeKalb 2000” plan Welsh presented when he officially announced his candidacy, Welsh said attracting and retaining business will be his number one priority if elected.

Sparrow said the city has worked with the corporation very closely, especially with the Nestle decision to build a new facility in DeKalb and create 130 jobs.

“I was one of the people that originally pursued such an organization,” Sparrow said. “I felt that we really needed a much broader approach and to be regional, not just have city to city programs.”

Sparrow said one area in which a lot of cities fail is when fights occur among each other for industry. “If a situation came up where DeKalb couldn’t accommodate a business, I would try to steer them to our neighbors,” he said. “Just having the industry in the area can create jobs for our people and new sales for our businesses.”

Hopkins said DCEDC is careful when dealing with competition for industry between cities. For example, Hopkins said the corporation stayed away from the Farm and Fleet decision to move from DeKalb to Sycamore recently.

Companies give many reasons upon deciding DeKalb is not right for them. The number one reason companies gave in 1992 was the lack of an available or suitable building or facility, according to the DCEDC annual report. Other reasons included cancellation of the project, shortage of labor, lack of financing, energy costs and larger incentives elsewhere.

DeKalb’s geographic location was another reason given. “Generally, companies rejecting DeKalb County’s geography were those which chose to expand in the Chicago metro area, and then frequently there was a better selection of buildings or facilities,” Hopkins wrote in the 1992 report.

To keep the industrial climate growing, Hopkins said having solid infrastructure is a key factor. “We need reliable sewer and water, transportation, fire department and emergency services,” Hopkins said.

Vocational training programs in area schools is another key. “A primary effort is trying to generate and identify interests in industrial trades,” he said. Skilled maintenance, tool and die making, metal fabricating skills, printing and graphics are some areas DCEDC is researching.

“There is a general feeling among companies who need to recruit new or replacement employees that the available area work force is weak on skills necessary for entry-level jobs in industry and manufacturing,” Hopkins wrote in the 1992 report.

Hopkins said DCEDC’s emphasis has changed from its inception. “The original organization emphasized trying to attract new industry,” Hopkins said. “We have shifted to retaining and helping existing businesses grow.”

An example of this type of help was DCEDC’s efforts in helping 3-M expand their facilities and increase their work force. “They gave us an idea about what opportunities are out there for existing facilities within the area,” said Gordon Butler, 3-M warehouse superintendent. “That’s what we asked for.”

The company rented more space in the Griffith Industrial Park in DeKalb and might hire as many as 15 more people, according to the DCEDC 1992 report.

DCEDC does many things for existing companies. “When a local company contacts us, we identify land they can buy if they need a new site or facility, identify buildings they can buy or rent, or identify programs for employee training,” Hopkins said. “We also do surveys of county growth and development that may be helpful to business.”

DCEDC had success bringing in new companies to the city of DeKalb in 1992. Solar Press and SEA Engineering both moved to the city. DCEDC also assisted in seven expansions of existing businesses in DeKalb.

In the county in 1992, the organization helped bring in over $65 million in private investment and 590 new jobs in industry, according to the year-end report.

As for 1993, Hopkins said DCEDC is working on a number of projects, but is unsure how many new businesses will locate in the county this year. “It’s really up to the companies,” he said.