This is not an easy time to work in economic development, but prospects for business growth in the Village of Montgomery are starting to look up.
That was the message that Charlene Coulombe-Fiore, executive director of the Montgomery Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), had for the village board during a recent meeting.
"The economy has really hurt us all in this particular business, and working with the lenders has been somewhat of a struggle, but I think there has been some positive news in the market lately and there have been a lot more phone calls," Coulombe-Fiore said, adding, "Again, I think things are looking up."
Coulombe-Fiore noted that building permits for both commercial and residential projects for the first quarter of this year are up over 2009 first quarter levels.
In a report for the first quarter of this year, Coulombe-Fiore noted that the total value of commercial building permits issued in the village for the first three months of this year was $850,000, up from $751,500 during the same period last year.
However, the village did not issue any building permits for industrial projects in the first quarter of this year or last year, according to Coulombe-Fiore.
Coulombe-Fiore also noted there has been a significant rise this year in residential building permits issued by the village. For the first quarter of this year, residential building permits topped $5.1 million, more than twice the $2.3 million in permits issued by the village in the first quarter of last year.
In her report, Coulombe-Fiore identified the continued expansion of Fox River Foods facility on Baseline Road and the opening of the Orchard Crossing Family Dentistry at 2090 Orchard Road just south of U.S. Route 30 among the business growth highlights for the first quarter of this year.
Coulombe-Fiore told board members that Dr. John Gaspard and his wife, Ann, had searched several years for the new site for their dental clinic.
Referring to the clinic, Coulombe-Fiore said, "It had been vacant (since the building was constructed) for almost three years. They (the Gaspards) invested over $100,000 in the plumbing alone (for the clinic)."
She added, "These kinds of investments help increase the real estate taxes for the village and other agencies and it brings money to the community."
Coulombe-Fiore said the MEDC continues to work to promote the expansion and retention of existing businesses through on-site visits.
She noted that the agency has expanded its team of experts who can assist local businesses. The team includes representatives from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center, Harris Bank, Upper River Valley Development Authority, ComEd, and Waubonsee Community College.
"These added resources are bought to the community in an effort to continue and encourage support during these tough economic times," Coulombe-Fiore noted in her reported.
She also listed 19 local businesses the MEDC "called upon, supported, assisted, coordinated with and/or described its services to during the first quarter of this year. Among those businesses were Aldi, Caterpillar, Buona Beef, Coffman Truck Sales, Gray's Mill, Hollywood Video, Montgomery Popcorn, Rogy's Daycare and Schaefer's Greenhouse.
Coulombe-Fiore told the board that the village's Douglas Road corridor remains a priority for the MEDC.
"I have spent a great deal of time on Douglas Road," she said.
As an example, she noted that the agency continues to work with businesses that have expressed an interest in re-developing the former Mobil gas station site at the northwest corner of U.S. Route 30 and Douglas Road.
She added that the village's recent resurfacing of Douglas Road between U.S. Route 30 and Montgomery Road has been an improvement that should also help adjoining businesses.
Coulombe-Fiore noted that numerous outlots remain available for restaurants and smaller retailers in the Wal-Mart anchored Orchard Crossing shopping center on Orchard Road and in the Ogden Hill shopping center at Route 30 and U.S. Route 34.
When questioned by board members, Coulombe-Fiore said it is helpful for them and village residents who would like to see a particular restaurant or retailer to locate in the village to contact those firms via their web sites.
Board member Jeanne Felten noted that she has been regularly leaving messages on the web site of a national restaurant chain in an effort to spark their interest in locating in the village.
Official: Events give downtown a boost
Concerning business growth in the village's downtown, Coulombe-Fiore said efforts to bring more people to the area such as the weekly farmers' markets the village started last month are helpful.
"Downtown is a special place in all of our hearts," she said. "The more we can do to get people walking will help us to bring more businesses to the area."
Board member Andy Kaczmarek questioned if anything is being done to market the Avaya property, a vacant 40 acre parcel situated on the west bank of the Fox River immediately south of U.S. Route 30. The property was once the site of a massive Western Electric/AT&T plant. The plant was demolished in 1996.
Kaczmarek noted that several years ago a village plan suggested the plant site could be re-developed as a public park area.
Anne Marie Gaura, village manager, said the park proposal was included in a downtown reinvestment plan.
Gaura added that the future re-development of the Avaya property must conform with Illinois Environmental Protection Agency rules.
"But it is definitely an area for redevelopment and we will gladly work on that with the MEDC and the development community," Gaura said.
Established by the village board in 2003 as a quasi public/private agency, the MEDC is financed through annual contributions from the village and local member businesses. Executive partners in the agency are: Caterpillar, Inc., Engineering Enterprises, Inc., Gusto Packing, Inc., Harris Bank, Montgomery Chiropractic and Rush Copley Medical Center and the village.
Coulombe-Fiore noted the agency's membership and revenues have been affected by the recession.
"We have lost very few member (businesses), but we have had some that have not been able financially to continue their level of commitment," she said. "Otherwise, we have lost few members and that is something very positive for our organization."