By Chris Johnson
An economic development advisor told the city’s newly formed Economic Community Development Committee Tuesday that there is a golden opportunity for development ready to be seized.
Advisor Greg Sparrow, Rochelle, who is also an Ogle County Board member, said the city has a major opportunity because it is the county seat.
“Being the county seat you have a golden opportunity,” said Sparrow. “Oregon is only limited by what you go after.”
To discover what direction to go, Sparrow challenged the members of the ECDC to answer questions.
“How fast do you want to go? What do we want to go after?” said Sparrow. “You can bring people here. You can develop the river front. You have tourism opportunities.”
The ECDC will need to examine what resources the community has to offer.
Sparrow said working with the Village of Mt. Morris is only logical since the communities share a combined school district.
He also said the river is a common element between Oregon and Byron.
“This is a good thing,” said Sparrow. “I encourage you to try a tri-city approach with Mt. Morris and Byron. Market the towns and you can attract retail.”
He said the area of the three communities has close to 15,000 in population and nearly 40 percent of the county population does not live within city limits.
“Embrace this and join forces and bring together the cities,” said Sparrow.
There is a railroad spur from Oregon that runs to Mt. Morris.
ECDC committee member Tom Golden asked how important it is to have the local businesses involved with development.
“It is critical,” said Sparrow. “You will all need to be together.”
“How do you initiate?” said Golden.
“You have a start,” said Sparrow. “Be inclusive and reach out. This is a great opportunity.”
The state policies have restricted business growth in Illinois, however with the state being centrally located in the nation, there are still benefits for businesses to move to Illinois, he said.
“Ogle County is a good magnet for business,” Sparrow said.
He said there are railroads going through the county including the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line on the southern edge of Oregon. There is also an interstate highway on the east edge of the county and a tollway on the southern edge of the county.
Sparrow said the ECDC could use these assets to their advantage. He said suppliers for the major factories in Rochelle do not need to be located in that city, but close enough to easily ship materials they need.
“Nippon Sharyo will need more distribution with access to Rochelle,” said Sparrow. “You need to be in a position to move.”
In order to attract businesses, the ECDC can have everything organized and have facts ready to supply companies interested in the area, he said.
“Take an inventory and see what you have,” said Sparrow. “What is the sewer capacity? What is the school capacity? You need to get a plan but fortunately you have capacity.”
Mayor Ken Williams said the city is currently at 50 percent sewer and 33 percent water capacity.
“You should also update your community profile on DCEO,” said Sparrow.
DCEO is the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. This is one resource companies have to quickly evaluate communities for potential development opportunities, he said.
For retail, the big box stores may not be what is attracted to a smaller town.
“You have the opportunity to attract other retail opportunities,” he said. “Mt. Morris is trying to get back on track. They had all their eggs in one basket.”
Sparrow said since the publishing industry left Mt. Morris, the village has been economically impacted and is currently working on ways to bring development to that community.
“If the big fish are available you want to compete, but you have Woods and Etnyre,” said Sparrow. “Focus on what you have, but you have opportunities. You can attract residential, retail, and industry.”
He said the ECDC should contact Woods Equipment Company and E.D. Etnyre & Company to see if those companies have any insights into development for the area that the committee could look into.
“They may expand in the future,” Sparrow said.