Highland Park officials asked business owners, Realtors, community leaders and others for ideas on boosting the business and job climate and, boy, did they get an earful. Leasing agents feel like the office sector is the “stepchild” of economic development in Highland Park.
Restaurant owners think more can be done to convince Ravinia Festival patrons to dine locally while in town for a performance.
Many believe the City of Highland Park should brand itself as “the place to play” — emphasizing entertainment, festivals, park amenities and events.
Those were just a few of the themes that emerged during the city’s first Business Summit Wednesday, Oct. 2, at the Highland Park Country Club.
“People thought that branding Highland Park was going to be key — that we need to be the architects of our own future, and not just let our story be told by someone else,” said Ginny Glasner, executive director of the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce.
The city has hired North Star Destination Strategies of Nashville, Tenn. to develop a brand and marketing plan for promoting the city to consumers outside the city.
“Overall, the largest response we had is that we really need to tap that Ravinia market,” said Megan Fulara, recapping dialogue from a group focused on the food and beverage sector. “We are bringing people in from not only the area, but the state and region. We need to be a destination. We don’t just need to provide free shuttle from the event.”
In another group focused on retail, participants spoke of the need for longer shop hours to serve working customers and more diversity among the types of retail establishments. In an era of online shopping and shrinking space needs, retailers should emphasize experiential products and services that cannot by purchased over the Internet, some noted.
Another idea was a boutique hotel with meeting space in downtown Highland Park.
The perceived shortage of downtown parking was seen as an obstacle by shopkeepers who want frequent turnover of spaces, and employers who need all-day parking for employees.
“People felt we needed to increase the visibility of the underground parking lots,” Glasner said. “There are people who still don’t know they exist.”
Retailers wanted better enforcement of parking restrictions, while employers pointed to the high cost of parking for workers.
“All of our employees basically have to pay for parking, or they are commandeering a (short-term) parking space and moving their vehicle” throughout the day, office leasing agent Wayne Shulman said.
Shulman facilitated a group that focused on the office market and professional services.
“Many of the competing suburbs have free parking,” he added.
Suggestions to overcome the parking shortage included shuttle buses to encourage greater use of public transit.
Shulman extolled the economic benefits of bringing more workers to town.
Other working groups focused on the education and non-profit sectors, Baby Boomer markets and technology start-ups.
According to summit planners, the city wants to capitalize on its reputation for innovation and perhaps create an incubator hub to support technology-based businesses.
One technology business, OpinionLab, was launched in downtown Highland Park in 1999, but moved in June to the West Loop to be closer to the tech-savvy talent it was seeking to recruit. The firm was based in Highland Park’s Port Clinton Square.
“Highland Park was very accessible to Chicago and O’Hare and offered all of the advantages of easy parking, convenient transit and more,” said Mark Treschl, president and CTO at OpinionLab. “Several of the founding executives also lived in Highland Park, so it was definitely the right place for us as we were building our business. We could focus on innovation. We developed over 15 patents during our tenure.”
Forty of the firm’s 90 employees were based in Highland Park at the time of the move.
“The lifestyle advantage for employees, particularly younger employees, sits with the city right now,” said Treschl, whose West Loop neighbors include Groupon, LinkedIn and Motorola.
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