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Economic Development Corp. Suspending Operations May 31

OEDC Chairman Mike Schoppe said a lack of funding will bring operations to a halt at month's end.

The Oswego Economic Development Corp., a longtime staple of the village's efforts to lure new businesses to town, will suspend operations May 31.

The OEDC board voted 11-1 at a Thursday special meeting to suspend operations May 31 due to a lack of funding. According to a Friday afternoon news release from OEDC Chairman Mike Schoppe, the group's four employees, including Director Michael Cassa, will be laid off effective that day. 

The Village Board voted April 19 to suspend its $85,000 annual commitment to the OEDC in order to study bringing economic development efforts under the auspices of the village. The board then voted May 3 to pay the OEDC what trustees believed the village owed the OEDC for its 2011 commitment through the end of May—$35,000.

However, it was later discovered by village staff that the village had paid its OEDC commitment through April 30 of this year in May 2010. Interim Village Administrator Dwight Baird said Friday afternoon that he then decided, with the consent of Village President Brian LeClercq, to pay the OEDC the money owed to it for May. That came to $7,083.33, Baird said.

Schoppe said the ODEC has not been dissolved nor has the Oswego Visitor's Bureau, which is funded through local hotel/motel tax revenue paid through the village. 

What this news means for the short-term future of economic development is a matter of debate. The Village Board has yet to determine what should be done in terms of economic development, and hiring a full-time economic development employee could take months, according to a report submitted by Baird to the Village Board May 3.

"If we're not able to provide economic development services to the village beyond May 31, I think it will hurt the village's continued economic development efforts," Schoppe said. 

LeClercq said he has faith village staff won't allow economic development opportunities fall through the cracks in the interim. 

"This village is and always will be open for business," he said. "If anyone comes along with a good business idea, we'll be happy to entertain it."

LeClercq said the OEDC has provided years of good service to the community, but the current Village Board majority wants to try a new approach.

"I think everyone wants what's best for the village," he said. "This is the path that this board has chosen. I'll be real interested to see what comes next."

Missing34 May 14, 2011 at 11:24 AM
Leclerq said it all. He is just going to kick back and wait for the businesses to line up at his door. SMH that we have another 4 years if this
Jef Player May 14, 2011 at 12:23 PM
What a shame. If the OEDC was broken, you try to fix it. If you cannot fix it, you replace it. The Oswego board's system of no fix and no plan for replacement is poor government. Mr. Henderson is correct. This behaviour will adversely affect us with higher taxes due to less revenue.
Rachelle Stoller May 14, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Agreed on all of the previous comments. It's even more frustrating to know that Trustees Johnson and Sollinger advocated for informed planning instead of rushing into things. Even Trustee Volpe said that they should look for a way to partner with the OEDC instead of just cutting them loose. But it seems that an agenda was already in play and we, the taxplayers, are the ultimate victims. If only more people had voted in the last election, we may have had a different outcome. It's amazing to me that the first action of this Board was to opt for something that will add to our tax load and vacate yet another building in downtown Oswego. If spending more money to bring business to Oswego is called for, I may be on board for that. But there is little to no planning involved in the decision to bring economic development in-house. I'm not impressed.
Stephen Lange May 14, 2011 at 01:27 PM
Rumor on the street is that LeClercq wants the "in-house" job for himself. Can you say self-serving?
Annie May 14, 2011 at 01:34 PM
If the trustees that voted to bring economic development in house were really representing the people of Oswego, they could see that nobody wants this. Seems like they are only representing themselves.
Felicia Slattery May 14, 2011 at 01:54 PM
I wonder if there is a way for OEDC to become a self-funding more privatized organization? Or perhaps it could quickly a non-profit entity with the purpose of bringing business to Oswego. I'm as big a fan as anyone to the concept of "pull marketing" -- putting in place systems that draw customers (in this case new businesses) to Oswego, but it does not seem the board has any plans of doing THAT even. As a business owner myself here in Oswego, I am always pleased to see new businesses opening their doors. But I don't see how without concerted ongoing effort that will happen. With so many other towns in our area clearly going after business development -- how can Oswego compete with no plan, no direction, and no staff hours dedicated to growing not only our tax base but also continually improving our area? I'd like to know what are the village's plans for improving the vacant eyesores of the former Alexander lumberyard and other vacated properties scattered throughout our downtown area. Where is the planning??? Shaking my head in disbelief, Felicia Slattery
J. Gibbons May 14, 2011 at 02:41 PM
I appreciate all the comments above and would like to hear from others who support what the new board is doing. All issues have two sides and I am trying to educate myself so that I can be better informed. I love Oswego, but I am an over-burdend property tax payer also. This forum has been wonderfully enlightening for those of us who cannot attend all the meetings. Basically I want to learn the pros and cons of remaining with the OEDC and the pros and cons of bringing it inhouse. So far I've gleaned that the OEDC wasn't very transparent and didn't keep the board informed of current events; however, I've learned that they have pledged to the new board that that will change. I still don't know the actual cost to contract to the OEDC or the inhouse plan because of the confusion of numbers reported from the previous board meeting. Anyway, thanks to everyone for your insights.
Karin McCarthy-lange May 14, 2011 at 02:58 PM
J - My understanding is that the village paid $85,000 annually to the OEDC and funded the Visitor Bureau with hotel tax dollars around $65,000. (someone please correct me if I am wrong) The $85,000 was approximately 20% of the OEDC's operating budget of $400,000 and some change. The proposal to bring Economic Development in-house is would be $205,000. Simple math tells me that the money saved does not equal what would be spent - $150,000 vs. $205,000.
Karin McCarthy-lange May 14, 2011 at 03:01 PM
Rachelle - If Volpe, Sollinger and Johnson are supporting working with the OEDC, and Micheals, Giles and Lawson want to bring it in-house, doesn't that leave the deciding vote up to our village president, Brian LeClercq?
David Sharp May 14, 2011 at 03:08 PM
I have always wondered how towns like St. Charles, Geneva, Plainfield, and of course Naperville have built beautiful and prosperous main street downtowns. I know this doesn't happen over night and takes the time and dedication of many resources. With the right people and the drive to get things done, anything is possible! I know there have been many surveys and questionnaires sent around but I believe we need to hit the reset button and start over. I invite you to read what Plainfield did as one approach to enhancing and building up their downtown. Oswego is a great town and we can all collectively make a difference! http://www.plainfield-il.org/docs/departments/planning/FocusGroupDraft11-30-04_000.pdf
Stephen Lange May 14, 2011 at 03:28 PM
J - you need to re-read the comments. People are not supporting the new boards rash decisions. If anything they find them incompetant and foolhardy.
rational thought May 14, 2011 at 04:40 PM
Another idiotic move by our "leadership". Pull funding from an organization that is working full time to bring businesses to Oswego BEFORE you have anything in place to replace it. Great thinking!
Jim Lausier May 14, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Karin, Trustee Volpe isn't clearly in either camp. He traditionally votes with Lawson, Michels and Giles, but he seems to be open to a re-structuring of the OEDC. At the last village board meeting he brought an example of a public/private partnership that he believes is structured better. This isn't completely over yet. The village has not yet voted to replace the OEDC, nor has OEDC been dissolved - they've just voted to suspend operations when their current funding runs out. So the dynamics are this: Johnson and Sollinger support the OEDC - Michels, Giles and Lawson seem to want it in-house - Trustee Volpe is the wild card. I think that if it comes down to a tie-breaking vote from LeClercq, he'll vote to keep OEDC running (that's only my gut feeling - he has not committed to this.) To be fair, there are some valid complaints about the village's representation on the OEDC board and the OEDC's accountability to the village. The question is, can these complaints be resolved without chucking the whole organization in the trash can? I don't believe that any of these complaints are beyond resolution. For the village to explore all of their options is not a terribly bad thing, but you don't explore your options AFTER cutting off funding to the current development team. It would be like me deciding that maybe I'd like to live in a different house - then moving my furniture out onto the lawn the same day.
Karl K May 14, 2011 at 05:53 PM
First Gary Adams, now this. You really have to wonder about the motives of the board. Saving money is clearly not the goal - as Karen pointed out, bringing economic development in house will end up costing the taxpayers MORE money. It's likely to be much less effective, at least for a few years, since whoever takes over will essentially be starting from scratch. I don't buy the argument that OEDC wasn't transparent enough; if the board members wanted to know what the OEDC was doing, you would think they would have bothered to show up at a board meeting. Judy Sollinger was the only one who ever attended OEDC meetings. The only explanation I can come up with is that this is all about control. Lawson, Giles, and Michaels (and probably LeClercq as well) seem to want tighter and tighter control over what goes on in this town. That's why they sent Gary Adams packing and that's why they pulled the rug out from under the OEDC. We can look forward to years of stagnation, followed by a huge mess to clean up when these jokers are finally voted off the board.
Jim Lausier May 14, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Karl, I agree with your overall assessment, but the statement that Judy Sollinger was the only one to attend meetings isn't accurate. President Brian LeClercq has attended OEDC meetings and Trustee Gail Johnson has not only been an OEDC partner since 2000, but if I'm not mistaken, she is also a former member of their Board of Directors (so she's clearly attended a few meetings.) The interesting thing here is that the Trustees who have involved themselves in the OEDC support it, while those who have not oppose it. (LeClercq has not tipped his hand, but my suspicion is that he would support the OEDC if it comes down to breaking a tie.)
Karl K May 14, 2011 at 06:44 PM
The board members who voted to suspend funds to the OEDC were Lawson, Giles, Volpe and Michaels. Johnson wasn't on the board at the time. From what I have heard, none of the four made much of an effort to understand what the OEDC was trying to accomplish.
Jim Lausier May 14, 2011 at 07:29 PM
Thanks for the clarification Karl, I guess you're right, Johnson hadn't yet been sworn in yet.
Norbert Andrews May 15, 2011 at 12:51 AM
The OEDC has brought great development to our community. Obviously, the Village Board has no clue how to run our Village. What are you going to put in place LeClercq ? A huge mistake in putting you back in office, you don't kill something unless you have a plan you and the board don't . Wake up Oswego, we have trustees and a Village Head that should not be running the Village. We will have a mess in the coming years. I cannot believe that they did not know what the OEDC did and will be doing. I don't what to hear your excuses or justifications, you are going to cost us money for the future. Now is the time to organize Oswego and get this group out.
MM May 15, 2011 at 02:28 AM
So in addition to raising taxes, Oswego also loses the other $300K that the private companies give to the OEDC ? That is insane.
Jessie Okayama May 15, 2011 at 03:01 PM
What is the board's action plan for bringing in new businesses and or corporations? Is it published anywhere what the current goals are and who is held accountable for these goals?
Tina Conley May 15, 2011 at 05:55 PM
Jessie. you're kidding right? They have no plan, had no plan, just yanked funding because they want to control everything. Come to the next Village Board Meeting and ask them. You will be appalled at the way they run this town. Watch how Sollinger and Johnson stay professional while the others blow spit bubbles and look disinterested.
Jessie Okayama May 15, 2011 at 06:02 PM
Yes Tina, My question was a bit rhetorical :) I voted unsuccessfully for a change in this last election and plan on keeping a much closer eye on our "fab 4". I would really like the board to be able to answer my questions, but I know we wont see results on business development now until the NEXT election.
Jim Lausier May 15, 2011 at 06:24 PM
LOLOL - "spit bubbles". Unfortunately Jessie, Tina speaks the truth with regards to any goals or action plans. Heck, they don't even know for sure how much they'll pay a community relations director - if they decide to hire one (which they haven't yet). The salary range is between $46,787 and $70,180 according to the document linked at the bottom of this comment. That's more than a $20,000 swing - so they really don't know what it will truly cost. Their own staff estimates 14 weeks to recruit and hire such a person. That's 3 1/2 months before you even have a director to begin organizing a department. So no, there is no action plan, no actual goals - just a sense that a department will be more "accountable" to the board. (In other words, it gives the board more power.) http://www.oswegoil.org/agenda-pdfs/2011.05.03cotw[1].pdf
Jim Lausier May 15, 2011 at 06:30 PM
The OEDC's plans and goals are here http://www.oswego-illinois.org/index.shtml Unfortunately, many portions of the site have not been updated in quite a while. This is one of the board's (valid) complaints about the OEDC. While some of the info is outdated, it does give a sense of how they work and how they're structured and funded.
Jim Lausier May 15, 2011 at 06:36 PM
I'm sorry, that should read "they don't even know for sure how much they'll pay AN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT director". They have a Community Relations Director, Michelle Bergeron - who is awesome.
Tina Conley May 15, 2011 at 06:46 PM
See ya at the next meeting Jessie ;)
Jane Enviere May 15, 2011 at 07:08 PM
I don't support taking the OEDC function in-house, but I do feel that what exactly they do is a mystery, to a large degree. Their website tells you next to nothing. I'd love to see a report on how they work to attract businesses, what busineses over the past 5 years have come here directly related to OEDC efforts (as in the business wasn't already looking at us, or didn't just approach the OEDC for demographic info, etc.), etc. People, not just the village leadership, ought to be able to find some of this information out without attending meetings constantly. It's silly to expect that people attend every single meeting of every single committee, etc., to get information on what is happening. And that always seems to be the mantra on these things. I remember reading something in The Beacon about the OEDC a long time ago (as in prior to the most recent election and this issue, etc.) and Googling and finding almost no info online other than the website (largely useless) and a LinkedIn page for the director and it didn't look like he was very connected on there, which seemed odd, given the nature of the position. Kind of like the website -- shouldn't that have a lot more information on it - if not for community members then for the businesses interested in the area? I would like to see more communication and opportunities for us to hear/learn more about what they are doing. Maybe that comes out of this, at least.
Carol Anaski-Figurski May 15, 2011 at 10:30 PM
We are living in exciting times where changes can be embraced. Iwould like to see the bright minds of our youth organize a student commitee for OEDC and perhaps it can be taught inthe schools cooperatrive careers program. Perhaps they would be able to arrange a sponsor thru the gaming industry or pepsi refresh project to meet the needsof the community.
Jessie Okayama May 16, 2011 at 05:03 PM
Jim, Thank you for the links. I agree completely with Jane. I can't even think of anything else to add.
Tina Conley May 16, 2011 at 11:53 PM
I hope they consider buying supplies for the Village of Oswego in Oswego... http://www.oswegoil.org/agenda-pdfs/2011.05.17revisedspvb[1].pdf

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