Call For Collaboration Emerges From Evanston Economic Development Summit

Several hundred Evanston residents, business owners and city officials gathered Friday morning to talk about developing the city’s economy in such sectors as retail, the arts, nonprofits, technology and education.

The buzzwords at the city’s first Friday were “collaboration” and “growth.” 

Organized to gather public ideas for implementing the city’s Economic Development Vision Statement and Plan, the summit was divided into several smaller workshops on such sectors as technology, health care, arts, education, nonprofits, retail, office and manufacturing.  

As a spokesperson from each workshop reported back to the group at the end of the day, the consensus was that better cooperation among businesses in a sector would lead to greater success overall.

One of those spokespeople was Evanston Symphony viola player Ed Coster, who talked to the packed crowd in the ’s council chambers about leveraging residents “passion.”

“In any entity, you need to create momentum,” Coster said. “It’s the people energy we’ve got to mobilize.” 

Summarizing the discussion on arts and nonprofits, Coster said a multidisciplinary team could be formed to raise the profile of arts throughout Evanston. Bill Geiger, president/CEO of the , also suggested getting businesses in the health and wellness sector together for a larger meeting. 

In a similar vein, the group that discussed Evanston’s growing baby boomer population talked about forming a thought leadership center in Evanston that could serve Chicago and the north suburbs, modeled after the “Institute for the Ages” in Sarasota, FL. 

As for the retail sector, Gina Speckman, executive director of Chicago’s North Shore Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said that members of that workshop thought there could be greater collaboration among shopping districts in Evanston as well. 

“People don’t know that business districts meet every month,” she said.

During the retail meeting, representatives from multiple business districts tossed around the idea of doing one, Evanston-wide activity that would bring people out to shop all over town. 

Speckman suggested that all the businesses in town hold a sidewalk sale on the same day, while executive director Carolyn Dellutri brought up the idea of a trolley that would take people from one area to another. 

Meanwhile, nonprofit groups also said they wished there could be greater collaboration among groups—as well as greater awareness of the huge number of nonprofits in town.

“Nonprofits are actually a huge employer in Evanston,” said Cass Wolfe, executive director of the . Her group discussed the idea of incubator spaces, where fledgling nonprofits could share resources to get off the ground. 

Beyond greater collaboration, business owners and residents talked about how to improve transportation within town, how to attract more businesses of all stripes to locate in Evanston and show to change perceptions about the difficulty of parking downtown.

Alderman in attendance included Ann Rainey, Don Wilson, Coleen Burrus, Melissa Wynne and Jane Grover. 

Rainey stressed the city’s willingness to work with local businesses, while Grover appealed to the citizens as “the experts in the room” who could help the city move forward. 

At the end of the day, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and economic development manager Nancy Radzevich called the event a success. 

“People were really excited and people just kept talking,” Radzevich said. 

“I think everybody wanted another session,” the mayor added.  




debrasears May 19, 2012 at 09:28 AM
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