City Council Deals With ED Problem


We haven’t had a chance to complete our review of the recently-passed 2014-15 City of Park Ridge budget, which is the first one in 5 years to escape any form of veto by Mayor Dave Schmidt. But at least one budget decision the Council made was a sound one: deciding not to re-establish a full-time City economic development position.

A full-time ED “coordinator” has been the No. 1 fantasy of the Chamber of Commerce and a number of local business owners ever since the City nuked the ED “director” position – and its $100K-plus compensation package – back in 2010. At that time the Council didn’t see enough measurable business generation or maintenance to justify the expense.

It was the right decision then, and it’s the right decision now.

As we’ve previously noted on several occasions, economic development in Park Ridge appears to be limited by several factors – most notably our lack of available land to accommodate big-box, high volume, or otherwise high sales tax-generating businesses. Accessibility is also problematic, with a limited number of major roadways available to transport non-resident customers quickly and easily into our commercial areas, including Uptown (former home to the Bredemann Toyota and Buick dealerships, and the Napleton Cadillac dealership).

Like it or not, Touhy, Greenwood, Northwest Hwy. and Dee Road are not favorites of non-residents looking to get somewhere quickly and easily.

But none of those problems was enough to stop City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton, Community Preservation and Development Director Jim Testin, and Finance Director Kent Oliven from enthusiastically endorsing the hiring of a new full-time ED person, even if they couldn’t seem to articulate sound business reasoning for that endorsement.

According to a report in this week’s Park Ridge Journal (“Economic Development Won’t Get Full-Time Director,” May 7), Hamilton and Testin, apparently with some help from Ald. Roger Shubert (4th), went so far as to modify the ED job description to include tasks seemingly unrelated to new business development but likely to build support from certain special interests, such as “serving as a liaison to local human and social service organizations.”

How does that translate into a more thriving retail/business climate?

The flabbiness of such bureaucratic thinking was highlighted by Ald. Marty Maloney (7th), who asked Hamilton the threshold $64,000 question: “Is the end result [of creating the new position] to positively increase sales tax revenues?”

Not surprisingly, Hamilton provided one of his typically weak non-answers, suggesting that simply having someone marketing and doing public relations for the City was a good enough end result for him. In other words, Hamilton doesn’t need measurable economic benefit from the holder of a position costing the taxpayers six figures because mere activity is as good as actual achievement.

For his part, Testin, from whom we had grown to expect more substanctive analysis, couldn’t seem to avoid reaching for that easiest of bureaucratic alibis ever since the recession hit in 2007 – claiming that a fluctuating economy would make it hard to use economic factors to judge an ED’s job performance.

Tell that to every private-sector manager who has to judge an employee’s performance by economic factors, usually on a quarterly basis and sometimes even on a weekly basis.

The Journal story reports that Maloney was joined in his inquiries by Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th), who noted that not only would the ED position itself cost between $116,000 and $120,000 once benefits were figured in, but that Hamilton, Testin and Oliven had left out any marketing budget for ED activities such as traveling to trade shows and developing marketing platforms to tell Park Ridge’s story.

Kind of like hiring a painter but not figuring in the cost of paint, brushes and tarps.

Interestingly enough, the Journal story ends with a look back to 2010 when the ED position was eliminated, and recalling how local insurance broker (and then-Chamber of Commerce president) Dave Donovan defended the then-ED director by pointing out how she had secured 40 new businesses, the expansion of 5 others, and generated $5 million in new tax growth during her 5 years on the job.

We remember those discussions quite well, which is why we remember that Mr. Donovan and his fellow ED director fans never seemed able to directly tie most of those new businesses to the ED director’s efforts (a la Testin’s excuse, above).  Instead, they were content to figuratively give the rooster credit for the dawn.  And when counting up her “wins” they conveniently ignored her “losses”: the various businesses that had closed during that same 5-year period, not the least of which was major sales tax generator Napleton Cadillac.

That’s the kind of half-baked “analysis” that invariably leads to the making of bad decisions, and their continuation.

The best thing City government can do to enhance ED is to put its own economic house in order so that it doesn’t discourage businesses from coming here and staying here by high taxes, unreasonable restrictions, and substandard services.  As we have seen with Whole Foods, Mariano’s, Chipotle, etc., we don’t need an ED director or coordinator to attract quality retail.

But so long as our highly-paid senior City management team can’t seem to (or doesn’t want to) apply basic business principles and metrics to the operations they are managing and the initiatives they are recommending, Park Ridge taxpayers will need to rely on our $100/month aldermen and our $1,000/month mayor to micro-manage those operations and initiatives – including whether or not to hire a full-time ED person.

Fortunately, in this case Alds. Maloney and Mazzuca performed like another pair of “M & M boys,” albeit from another era and another venue.

Nice hitting, guys!

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