Given limited resources, communities look for novel strategies that can drive their growth and prosperity. Yet, the assets that comprise their core competitive advantages — like skilled workers, freight infrastructure, and specialized industry clusters — often extend across jurisdictional boundaries. As a result, collaboration across communities can support both local and regional goals.

Kane County exports


Exports connect metropolitan economies with a growing global consumer base and support more sustainable economic growth. Metropolitan Chicago exported $43.9 billion of goods in 2016 — a 50 percent increase over ten years and the fifth highest regional exports in the nation. Since 2015, Kane County has expanded local export activity by providing a boost of additional funding to companies that receive grants from Metro Chicago Exports. This regional export-growth initiative — a collaboration of northeastern Illinois’ seven counties (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will) and the city of Chicago — helps small and medium-sized businesses begin exporting to targeted foreign markets or expand their existing trade networks.

Metro Chicago Exports — Chicago Regional Growth Corporation — has multiple initiatives to bolster global economic connections with the region’s businesses. Its grant program has strengthened export networks in numerous industries including construction, digital media, energy, manufacturing, and technology solutions. It also helps companies develop strategic export plans and hosts annual pitch fests during which participants are eligible for additional funding totaling $30,000.

Kane County is the only county to date to encourage more businesses to seek export grants by offering up to $5,000 in matching funds, using tax revenue from the Elgin Grand Victoria Riverboat already set aside for economic development. Doing so allows Kane County to amplify the reach of an existing pilot program without setting up additional administration and new criteria. Such grants help companies offset business development costs associated with trade missions, international regulatory compliance, and marketing tools. For example, Riverbank Laboratories, Inc. — an aluminum tuning forks manufacturer with nine employees in Geneva, IL — used such funding to expand its marketing and sales in Europe, ultimately doubling its export volume. InFlight Entertainment Products — a leading supplier to the global aviation industry based in Carpentersville, IL — used the grant to grow its international customer base among European airlines.


Next Level Northwest


Next Level Northwest is a public-private initiative formed in partnership by local officials in Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Rolling Meadows, and Schaumburg. The five municipalities have contributed a total $250,000 for the first three years to provide business mentoring, coaching, and other services to business owners in the Northwest Cook County area. Launched in 2017, the initiative aims to support local entrepreneurs in tackling their unique barriers to growth and thereby in strengthening the regional business base. Through a regional mentor network, Next Level Northwest focuses assistance on “Stage 2” businesses — those with several years of operations and approximately 10-100 employees — to design long-term business plans that include coaching and training. Enhanced business competency can help entrepreneurs to adapt to changing markets, while finding greater operational efficiencies.

Given increasingly constrained public resources, some local governments are reconsidering small business growth as a municipal priority and taking proactive steps to spur local prosperity. Federal and state programs like Small Business Development Centers have faced recurring instability and uncertainty without reliable funding. By contrast, local governments are finding ways to share the cost of services in ways that reflect their shared markets and labor pool. In doing so, Next Level Northwest builds on the existing trust developed through previous efforts like the Golden Corridor Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. Such partnerships allow communities to provide more tailored and higher quality services than smaller governments could provide on their own. The organization will host its first pitch night in fall 2018 for businesses looking to expand their sales and employment margins within the region. Modeled on the lessons and success of the Fox Valley Entrepreneurship Center, this business acceleration partnership could help to retain and attract business growth to the Northwest Cook County area.

Chicago Metro Metal Consortium


The Chicago Metro Metal Consortium (CMMC) brings deliberate focus and support to the region’s industry cluster of metal and machinery manufacturers, guided by its business leaders. In a concerted shift to cluster-oriented economic development, northeastern Illinois’ seven counties (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will) and the city of Chicago formed CMMC in 2014 to marshal resources around a significant regional specialization. Employment data for 2016 show that metropolitan Chicago’s metal and machinery manufacturers form the largest such cluster in the nation and employ nearly 96,800 workers. Maintaining the Chicago region’s competitive advantage requires an organized effort among businesses and related institutions to foster further cluster growth. Many regions have begun forming cluster initiatives like CMMC to convene partners and to tackle the unique, often-multijurisdictional concerns of industry clusters. From 2014-12, CMMC helped leverage $46 million in public and private resources supporting metal and machinery manufacturers in Illinois. Such results provide a strong example of how cluster initiatives — in partnership with private sector leaders, education and research institutions, and others — can provide comprehensive support for accelerated cluster growth.

Cluster support can take many forms based on an understanding the cluster’s strengths and needs in the region. For example, CMMC has prioritized efforts to foster a skilled workforce, enhance innovation, and promote international trade and investment in metal and machinery manufacturing. Since being named one of 24 Investing in Manufacturing Communities by the U.S. Department of Commerce, its initiatives have helped to maintain the region’s position as a leading hub for related business development. A growing regional business network connects metal suppliers with manufacturers and identifies key infrastructure improvements that benefit the cluster. Partnerships with education and training providers help address local workforce needs by articulating and promoting career pathways in manufacturing. Ongoing collaboration with Metro Chicago Exports and the German American Chamber of Commerce helps metal manufacturers reduce the cost of entry and expansion into foreign markets. Such initiatives demonstrate the potential for businesses to work together on shared opportunities and common concerns in ways that complement their competitive interests.

Chicagoland Food and Beverage Network


The Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network (CFBN) is a new initiative to address the needs of the region’s longstanding industry cluster of food manufacturers and packagers. Such cluster initiatives can generate economic activity that both decreases inequality and boosts the region’s productivity and competitiveness. Launched in 2017, CFBN offers a range of consulting, financial, innovation, workforce training, and other activities that reflect the industry cluster’s rapidly changing markets. Recent trends are heightening the need for companies to work together on shared opportunities in ways that complement their competitive interests. Food industries have shifted substantially in recent years amid evolving consumer tastes, technology and regulatory requirements, and skilled workforce needs. CFBN brings together disparate private and public resources to address these common concerns jointly. For example, CFBN has begun building a food manufacturing training institute based on an industry-driven curriculum and partnership with regional training providers.

CFBN’s mission aims to align industry growth with inclusive improvements to regional employment, entrepreneurship, and neighborhood revitalization. The advantages of local roots and opportunities for inclusive growth are integral to the food cluster’s business case. Food manufacturing and processing industries have a high share of small and medium-sized businesses based in neighborhoods with smaller-scale industrial lands and access to the region’s transportation system. Facilities have often operated on Chicago’s South and West Sides or in nearby suburbs for decades. At the same time, over half of food manufacturing jobs require little more than a high school diploma, and entry-level jobs have clear career pathways to well-paying, supervisory roles without much additional education.

Metropolitan Chicago also has the resources and talent — as a food innovation community — to expose diverse residents to successful entrepreneurs and to help food startups to thrive. CFBN helps to connect new entrepreneurs with distribution and marketing opportunities, as well as mentorship from bigger food companies. Alongside corporate giants like Kraft-Heinz, Mondelez, ConAgra, and McDonald’s, metropolitan Chicago has played host to food start-ups like Laine’s Bake Shop, TeaSquares, RXBar, and Tiesta Tea.

Beach Park, Winthrop Harbor, and Zion


In 2016, three communities in northeastern Lake County — Beach Park, Winthrop Harbor, and Zion — signed an intergovernmental agreement to collaborate on mutual economic development initiatives. The partnership pursues commercial and housing reinvestment across municipal borders in an effort to attract new businesses and residents to the sub-region as a whole. The three communities share economic development costs like hiring an economic development and recruitment firm, as well as the local sales tax revenue of new developments. Proactive, non-compete strategies help to maximize the impact of their limited public resources and to market the communities jointly as a unified market area. After years of struggling to attract development, local leaders sought to create a stronger and more competitive lakefront sub-region where communities are co-dependent for their economic success. Read more about the agreement in an ON TO 2050 profile of Beach Park Village Manager Jon Kindseth.

Local planning efforts supported by CMAP have emphasized both the importance of such cooperation and the need to view local development in the context of larger sub-regional and regional markets. Particularly in smaller market areas, competition among neighboring municipalities can result in public expenditures for limited economic gain and in some cases fiscal impacts surrounding communities. Retailers and other local developments can capitalize on competing incentives while accessing the same customer base, infrastructure, labor pool, and other assets that drive their profitability. Alternatively, local communities can improve outcomes, expand resources, and lower costs by cooperating on economic development activities.