By Bob Uphues
For years a governmental advisory group without a defined mission, the Riverside Economic Development Commission finds itself re-energized.
Tasked by Riverside municipal government to find ways to implement economic development goals stated in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP)'s downtown comprehensive plan completed in 2013, the EDC is now pondering ways to help facilitate future development in Riverside.
On March 10, the EDC and a select group of guests — including village officials, members of the Chamber of Commerce and local property and business owners — will gather at The Chew Chew on East Burlington Street to hear from Anthony Griffin, the executive director of the Berwyn Development Corporation.
"Riverside, of course, is a much different place compared to Berwyn," said Keith Wright, the EDC member spearheading the event for the commission. "But we have a lot of things to learn from them as well.
"As much as anything, it's kind of getting people in Riverside thinking outside the box. We wanted to start the creative thinking process."
The Berwyn Development Corporation is a 501c3 organization that partners with the city of Berwyn to market the town and court potential developers. It also plans special events spotlighting the city and provides services for existing businesses along the lines of a traditional chamber of commerce.
Griffin is expected to give attendees of the March 10 event an overview of how the Berwyn Development Corporation operates, answer questions and help brainstorm ideas.
"More than anything, we need to start thinking on a little bit different scale," said Wright, who is the EDC's liaison to the chamber of commerce. "CMAP put that on a slate for us."
In the past the EDC and Riverside Township Chamber of Commerce have worked independently of each other, but served as groups who mainly reacted to village requests for assistance.
More recently, the two groups have begun to identify their roles more specifically. The chamber of commerce, for example wants to move away from being an event-planning group and focus on helping existing businesses succeed.
"It dawned on me that the chamber needs to get out of the event-planning business," said David Moravecek, the president of the Riverside Township Chamber of Commerce. "Our main goal should be promoting the businesses we have, make people aware of what we have in Riverside."
The EDC, on the other hand, in the past year has focused on branding the village and focusing on attracting new businesses and development. The "I Got It in Riverside" campaign, which was the brainchild of former economic development commissioner Don Pogany, was an illustration of that.
"It proved we could accomplish something," said Wright. "I think a lot of people in Riverside have a tremendous amount of creative influence."
Village President Ben Sells, who acts as the village board's liaison to the chamber of commerce, says he's encouraging the chamber and EDC to work together to help spur economic development in Riverside.
"I think CMAP is correct when it says that to get more development, you need to show existing businesses can thrive," said Sells.
In that scenario, the chamber can help existing businesses while the EDC does outreach to developers and prospective business owners. The collaboration between the two entities likely will be strengthened later this spring when Riverside revamps its building department.
The new community development director will focus not just on building but will have a role in focusing economic development efforts.
Scott Zimmer, owner of The Chew Chew where the March 10 event will be held, said he's encouraged by the new outlook on business and development from village government.
"The jury is still out, but anything positive is better that what we've seen in the past," Zimmer said. "I'm trying to stay optimistic. If we can offer a forum and a venue to share ideas, I think that's great."
Whether such collaboration might lead to Riverside creating a development corporation along the lines of Berwyn is just speculation at this point, though Wright said it would be nice for the EDC to be able to raise funds for its own use rather than rely on the village to fund it.
But Sells said the thought of such a corporation isn't on his radar yet.
"[The March 10 event] is not intended to lay the groundwork for that but rather to show here's how a neighbor has been successful in developing areas," said Sells.