Candidates running for seats on the McHenry County Board met with the Northwest Herald Editorial Board last week and talked about all types of issues, from infrastructure and politics to the steady fight against crippling property taxes.
But there's another issue that came up time and again – economic development.
Here's a look at what the candidates had to say about attracting new businesses and getting the ones already here to stay:
• Candidate Christopher Spoerl said McHenry County must make itself a destination for residents and business.
“We have to make them want to come here, make the people who comprise these businesses want to come here, make them see that they have a lot of good schools, a lot of good infrastructure and a lot of good amenities here,” Spoerl said. “We have to take a very close look at the regulations that we’re imposing on them and make sure that the regulations make sense.”
• Candidate Michael Vijuk pointed to a large number of vacant storefronts on Route 14 in Fox River Grove and said development should focus on opportunities for women and single parents where there are child care options.
“We’re sitting there saying we’d like to have more businesses, but if single parents have to be concerned with their children, how will they be able to go out and get the traditional kinds of jobs that we have?” Vijuk said.
• County Board member Bob Nowak said one asset the county has for economic growth is its lower sales tax.
“If you simply look at the fact that you can go to the store and buy things and pay 7 percent or 6.5 percent of the sales tax, you go right over to Kane County and you’re at 10 percent [and] in Carpentersville and you go downtown, you’re at 12 percent sales tax. That’s a big difference,” Nowak said. “And I think that draws people to McHenry County, where they want to spend money here instead of the other areas.”
• Democratic candidate Suzanne Ness said she would like to see the use of more intergovernmental agreements as a possible strategy for controlling spending.
“We have over 110 separate taxing bodies in this county alone,” Ness said. “I’m certain there are redundancies in those organizations, and we’re all pulling from the same pot, so let’s really make a concerted effort to the voters and to the constituents to say we’re trying to work together for [your benefit], and what that would look like.”
Ness views McHenry County College as an underused resource for business growth, as she said community colleges often can be great places for growth, creating a talent pool of young employees for businesses.
• Republican candidate Carolyn Schofield said infrastructure improvements are critical to business growth, and she commended projects such as the widening of Randall Road.
“If people can’t get there, then no business is going to want to build there,” Schofield said.
With the business world changing because people want to work from home, Schofield highlighted the county’s changes to its Unified Development Ordinance, which created regulations for residents wishing to start home businesses or agribusinesses.
• Republican Josh Howell said steps such as eliminating extra permitting charges for variations and conditional use could create an incentive for businesses such as large retailers – which drive revenue through the taxes they pay – to come here.
“Steps like these attract businesses and also encourage existing businesses to be able to not incur those types of costs when they expand and grow," he said. "This can have a huge impact on the county, especially when you look at large retailers.”
• Incumbent Republican Joe Gottemoller took a stand against opponents of McHenry County’s push to expand and improve transportation infrastructure.
“At [Route] 20 and I-90, there’s over a million square feet of factory space that’s been constructed in the last 15 years. Those are factories, those are jobs. … Factories go there to take advantage of the transportation effort we have. … Major transportation centers, [such as] airports that fly all over the world, [are] within an hour of that location.”
• Republican candidate Lori Parrish said the key to stoking business growth is collaboration among leaders and trumpeting achievements and developments already in McHenry County.
“We need to celebrate those things that have already happened,” she said. “We need to celebrate the successes and the amazing things that are going on in this county so that we can encourage our young people to enjoy being here and want to return.”
• Democratic candidate Kelli Wegener said McHenry County must transform into a place where businesses want to be and have many ways to travel there.
“Make this a destination where we want [out-of-town] manufacturers and businesses to come [and] our workers to stay here," Wegener said. "They have this infrastructure on the books right now: They’re increasing Route 31, 47, the fiber networks, the interchange on [Interstate] 90, [Route] 23. … That’s wonderful because the only way we are going to get people to come is if our infrastructure is strong.”
• Incumbent John Jung said lower permitting and impact fees could help spur development – along with making more of an effort to form relationships with potential businesses.
“When you’re 20 miles away from the state line, it’s hard to keep businesses from picking up and leaving," Jung said, "and I think we do need to do a better job. … We should show businesses we’re interested and we want them. What are your needs? How can we help you? I don’t know how much we do that outside of the [McHenry County Economic Development Corp.].”
• Incumbent Republican Michael Rein pointed to more collaboration with manufacturers to expand business in McHenry County.
“McHenry County has been a blue-collar county forever. It always has been. We had the manufacturing here. It has gone away. And now, some of that, we don’t have the skilled people to do that anymore; however, our workforce network actually works with our manufacturers quite a bit. … With that, we are looking to expand in our county," Rein said. "We are looking to bring manufacturers and businesses here.”
• Democratic candidate Carlos Acosta said a key to driving businesses to open in McHenry County is intense investment in infrastructure.
“McHenry County has the opportunity, because they’ve already started investing in broadband infrastructure, to expand on that," he said. "That is going to bring more businesses in the tech world into McHenry County. I would hope that investment continues and is expanded and is made available.”
• Democrat Frank Wedig said the county must do the research to find out what is keeping businesses away from northern Illinois.
“We have to listen to business owners and hear what they have to say about regulations and the cost of doing business here," Wedig said. "… [We have to find out] why they don’t want to expand in Illinois [and] what it would take for them to expand and invest in Illinois.”
• Democrat Larry Spaeth said the county has not been very business-friendly to prospective companies.
Using the city of Harvard as an example, Spaeth said there has been little to no new construction for seven or eight years in the city, there has been no demand for residential housing, and the only businesses that have opened have been restaurants and other community services.
“This is not the kind of economic development we need,” Spaeth said. "We need something that provides jobs, and so far, I don’t see the coordinated effort at the county level or cooperative effort between the villages."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the district Jung, Rein, Acosta and Wedig are running for seats in.