The skills needed to develop and sustain a healthy economic environment for a City are different from the skills needed to grow a financially successful business. The ultimate goal of a business is to generate profits for its owners. The ultimate goal of a City, by contrast, is to create healthy, safe and positive environments for everyone who lives, works, studies, plays and visits. Cities need to generate revenue, but how and where that is done has far-reaching impacts on people’s lives. Knowing which projects to support and which to discourage, which innovations to embrace and which to be wary of, and how to do the most good for the most people with the least possibility of impacting others negatively all takes experience. That is true when the economy is strong, but it is particularly true when the future is less clear.
I have spent the past eight years working to build our economy in ways that have benefited all of Evanston, not just a privileged few. When I was first elected, our economy was still reeling from the effects of the 2008 economic crisis. Businesses were closing, store fronts were empty, and unemployment was high, but the Council was determined to turn things around.
Recognizing that there was no “silver bullet” solution, we undertook a number of initiatives to encourage growth. The results were dramatic:
- In 2009 the unemployment rate in Evanston had soared above 8%. By year end 2016, unemployment in Evanston was at 4.3% (lower than the national average).
- Last year, 86 new businesses located to Evanston. That is double the rate of new business expansion from just two years ago;
- Today, overall commercial vacancy rates in Evanston are at 5%. That is the lowest vacancy rate that we have seen in 10 years.
As Mayor, I will build on these successes with the following actions:
- I will continue to steer City funding and towards targeted business assistance programs that have stabilized our business districts and provided positive revenue to the City, as I did as a member of the Economic Development Committee.
- I will also continue my push for the City to be more intentional about the businesses that we encourage to locate here. We need to ask ourselves what merchants, services and employers will best serve the City’s needs and what needs to be done to ensure that all of our business districts are thriving. For example, I do not believe that we are currently doing enough to ensure that all residents in Evanston have access to good, affordable and healthy food. Like many cities in America, we have a number of food deserts where residents without cars (including the elderly) have few healthy options to fast food and convenience markets. The City has a role to play in addressing this need.
- I will continue to advocate for the creation of a downtown performing arts venue, as well as additional, mixed-use developments located near transportation hubs throughout the City. Projects like these will generate reliable revenue streams for the City, along with increased business for new and existing shops, restaurants and hotels. But beyond that, creating these amenities will provide even greater incentives for organizations and businesses looking to hold conferences, conventions, or even relocate in Evanston.