By Nona Tepper
The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development has re-introduced its economic development committee, which will focus on identifying and promoting what businesses need to succeed in the village.
"It's been in the works for quite a while. A lot of people may think it had something to do with the election, but this was discussed long before that came about," said Bridget Lane, who co-chairs the committee.
Lane, who is director of Business Districts Inc., a firm that consults with villages on economic growth, previously worked for the village but no longer serves in a formal capacity.
She said the current chamber of commerce represents a merger of the Illinois Main Street program and the chamber, so the village wouldn't have two organizations "tripping over each other. Economic development was always part of the Main Street mission." Mayor Anthony Calderone previously led an ad hoc effort, she noted, but different people attended each meeting and there was no continuity. The initiative fell by the wayside.
Now a group of 10 permanent, volunteer chamber members have restarted the idea with the goal of "getting things done, not just talking about opportunities in the future."
"This is a positive step forward and really is in the history of the chamber and its Main Street focus," Lane said.
The committee aims to establish facts and drive discussion about Forest Park's economy, monitor development trends for their impact on the village, recommend policy and more.
"We're really going to focus on what's going to work for the property owners and the businesses in Forest Park," she said, noting that members range from Crystal Carwash on Harlem Avenue to Healy's Westside on Madison Street to the Forest Park Plaza mall on Roosevelt Road. A group of property owners in a contiguous area could go to the village and ask for help paying for marketing events, for example.
Their strategy goals for this year are to make Madison Street the best "shop small street" for villages within a 30-minute drive, which means that consumers from out of town, looking for a place to eat or shop, will Google "Forest Park" and choose one of the many restaurants or shops in town. Then, they'll return.
"We see Madison Street as an unrecognized regional resource that's much better than most of the Main Street-type communities," Lane said. "For all its success, Forest Park remains a revelation in waiting."
The committee has already mapped out its monthly meeting topics, starting with organization and strategy review, moving to tax revenue goals and action plan in April, regulation recommendations in June, regional market assessment in September and progress evaluation in October.
"We really want to make sure that there is continuing and necessary financing for economic development," Lane said, adding that the meeting in April will focus on economic development generating tax revenue, and the one in June will focus on recommending regulation changes, or "what is impeding economic development here."
She said outside members would "absolutely be welcome" to attend the meetings, but because they aimed to develop strategies over time, residents should give volunteers time to fully flesh out their ideas.
"If you attend the meetings, it's like watching the sausage being made," she said. "The idea here is to have people who really know what they're talking about and give them time to let their ideas get fully formed."