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Cook County Releases Economic Development Agenda

On April 4, 2013, Cook County released an economic development agenda, Partnering for Prosperity. Eight of the nine agenda strategies directly align with GO TO 2040 recommendations. The following Policy Update provides a brief overview of the agenda, which addresses the county's role in the metropolitan Chicago economy, and describes the many areas in which Partnering for Prosperity overlaps with the GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan. The agenda, which was developed with support from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and her Council of Economic Advisors, also aligns with recommendations from World Business Chicago's Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce-commissioned Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's study of the broader tri-state region.

The agenda includes analysis of the region's clusters, human capital, land use, the housing-jobs balance, and opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship. It seeks to strengthen partnerships between the county's public and private sector challenges and build on the area's many (often overlooked) assets like freight and manufacturing. The agenda focuses first on governance strategies to make Cook County more attractive for business investment. Next, the agenda outlines strategies to support the region's primary drivers of growth: manufacturing and transportation. The agenda concludes with support strategies to both keep the county and region competitive and enable residents and commerce to flourish.

Improving County and Municipal Governance and Collaboration
The agenda's strategies to improve governance focus on increasing the return on taxpayer investments. These strategies, such as identifying steps to improve transparency, efficacy, and accountability in County government and consolidating local service provision by suburban governments, echo GO TO 2040's recommendations to pursue coordinated investments. The agenda describes how Cook County can build on existing initiatives and engage partners like CMAP to explore opportunities to share services and centralize capacities.

Cook County is home to 121 municipalities, many of which could be better served by collaborating on economic development and business attraction activities. The agenda suggests Cook County create an "Economic Growth Institute" to take on multijurisdictional projects that identify and develop better-targeted, mutually beneficial development plans. The institute would carry out analytic, business-planning, and implementation activities across municipalities that typically have limited staff resources for such activities.

Fostering Economic Growth through Manufacturing and Transportation
The agenda's production strategies focus on supporting manufacturing and transportation industries. Cook County has a high concentration of manufacturing employment, and the agenda calls for supporting two particularly dominant industries -- fabricated metals and food processing and packaging. For a number of reasons, including shifts in the global economy, increased use of science, engineering, and technology in product development, and the region's transportation assets, these industries are particularly poised for growth according to CMAP's recent manufacturing cluster drill-down report.

Modern manufacturing requires firms to produce goods in a matter of weeks, not months. Local fabricated metal producers are well-positioned to develop competitive supply chains because of the region's robust freight assets. Fabricated metals manufacturing is dominated by small- and medium-sized firms that often produce intermediary products for other important regional manufacturers like auto parts, industrial machinery, or medical equipment. Assisting fabricated metal manufacturers with workforce training and other assistance will indirectly support the region's dominant end-product industries.

Food manufacturing has long been a strength of the region. Area manufacturers continue to innovate in the areas of processing and packaging at a time when demand for convenient foods with smart packaging is increasing. These recommendations to focus on specializations in the regional economy are aligned with CMAP's manufacturing cluster drill-down report; the agenda's next steps echo the drill-down's calls for aligning workforce training to meet the needs of these changing industries and developing cluster support strategies to bolster further innovation.

Though manufacturing has been a longstanding strength of the region's economy, metropolitan Chicago needs to improve the quality and efficiency of the region's transportation infrastructure to maintain that competitive advantage. The agenda calls for the County to partner with other stakeholders in the region, including CMAP, to implement many of GO TO 2040's recommendations to increase commitment to public transit. The agenda specifically recommends improving multimodal transportation, replacing ridged funding formulas with strategic planning and resource allocation, and developing permanent capital funding sources for maintaining and expanding the region's existing system. Additionally, the agenda calls for the County to become more engaged with freight-related infrastructure issues and proposes the development of a freight mobility and land use plan to better-coordinate its various departments and municipalities.

Supporting Communities and Workforce Development
The agenda closes with community and workforce development strategies. The region is challenged to some extent by a "spatial mismatch" between where residents live and work. The agenda mirrors many of GO TO 2040's recommendations to strengthen livable communities by promoting mixed-use, dense, and well-connected communities as appropriate. Finally, human capital remains one of metropolitan Chicago's most pressing challenges. As a whole, higher-skilled occupations are growing while lower-skilled occupations are stagnant or contracting, but the region's workforce is not keeping up. The region's education and workforce training institutions must ensure that students are developing needed skills for rapidly advancing industries.

Next Steps
Partnering for Prosperity identifies several areas where CMAP and the County can collaborate to improve transportation and freight in the region. There is a clear connection between sustainable economic development and investing in region's transportation infrastructure through improving public transit and managing congestion. The agenda highlights CMAP's congestion pricing initiative as "a cost-effective way to improve traffic flow." The County's support of this initiative could help regional stakeholders understand the importance of this innovative strategy to address the region's costly roadway congestion.

Cook County will now focus on implementing the agenda's recommendations, in part through their incorporation into the County's operations and the development of a system to monitor economic development performance. The agenda's implementation will be an important step towards achieving the regional vision set forth by GO TO 2040.