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Emanuel, Preckwinkle create ‘industrial growth zones’

Ald. Emma Mitts speaks before Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle launch a new initiative to create jobs by bringing new industrial businesses to Chicago. Monday, July 18, 2016. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle thawed out their frosty relationship on Monday in a way that could attract new industries and well-paying manufacturing jobs to city neighborhoods that desperately need both.

Emanuel and Preckwinkle once appeared to be on a political collision course. She took a pass on a 2015 race for mayor against Emanuel that many believe she would have won.

Now the two almost rivals are joining forces to create so-called “Industrial Growth Zones” in seven designated areas over the next three years.

The zones include Northwest, Greater Southwest, Burnside and Calumet Industrial Corridors; the Roosevelt/Cicero Redevelopment Area; and several south suburban communities that have “significant assets” but face real economic challenges.

The program is tailor made to remove the two biggest obstacles to industrial development: bureaucratic red tape and vacant or unused land that needs costly environmental cleanup to prepare the site for development.

To remove those barriers, landowners within the designated zones will be eligible to receive up to $130,000 in financial assistance that can be used toward environmental site assessment and cleanup. They’ll also be eligible to receive free marketing to developers and companies.

The city and county — along with the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association — will also join forces on a new site certification program that will create what Emanuel called a “one-stop shop” for interested developers and companies. The goal is “faster development,” officials said.

At a news conference Monday at Freedman Seating, 4545 W. Augusta, Emanuel said he identified the hurdles that need to be removed while attracting Method Manufacturing and the Whole Foods Distribution Center to the Pullman neighborhood on the South Side.

“One of the complications was Indiana could offer immediately just farmland that did not need any remediation. Our ability to help address that issue, pay some of that cost, answer that uncertainty, allowed us to become much more competitive. That’s what this policy addresses. So Indiana and other areas that offer basically farmland cannot out-compete Chicago if we can eliminate some of the uncertainty around environmental remediation for old industrial areas,” Emanuel said.

“Companies face many, many uncertainties in locating or expanding. Tremendous amount of uncertainties. If we as a city and as a county can partner and eliminate some of those uncertainties, we will become tremendously more competitive in recruiting companies and helping companies . . . expand.”

The cooperation between the city and county may sound amorphous and unimportant, but it shouldn’t, the mayor said.

“In the past, as it relates to coordination and better efforts between the city and county, we could sometimes be our worst enemy. That goal today is to eliminate that cumbersome speed bump in the way of recruiting companies,” he said.

Preckwinkle said the streamlined bureaucratic process is aimed specifically at attracting small and medium-sized businesses. The goal is to shorten the approval process to “potentially 9 to 12 months,” she said.

The broader goal is to create “real, sustainable jobs” in neighborhoods that need those opportunities most.

“Economic growth in the Chicago region has faced serious challenges. Many of our traditional communities in both the city and suburbs suffer from dis-investment, vacant or abandoned properties and stagnant job creation,” Preckwinkle said.

“We need to have better customer service, fewer policy constraints and at least the perception that the cost of doing business needs to be less expensive.”

The news conference was a command performance for elected officials.

In addition to Emanuel and Preckwinkle, past or future mayoral contenders in attendance included County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who lost the 2015 runoff to Emanuel; County Commissioner Richard Boykin and Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp.