Local News

New south suburban economic development org aims to spur growth

The Southland Development Authority (SDA), a new vehicle designed to grow the economy in the South Suburbs, officially launched on Wednesday, Nov. 13. 

SDA is a next-generation economic development initiative designed to promote the large scale investments needed to propel the region forward. It is the result of work done by the South Suburban Economic Growth Initiative (SSEGI), a community-based group of leaders who have been supported by Cook County, the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (SSMMA) and other civic and philanthropic partners.

The SDA is modeled after several new organizations that have emerged across the country over the past few years. It will be the first of its kind in Illinois. 

This new approach to economic development provides new sources of capital and financial tools needed to support effective management and implementation of new property investments in the region. These new models are broader in scope, more comprehensive and built on cross sector partnerships.

Three examples of highly successful development authorities are: Brooklyn Navy Yards, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation and the Menomonee Valley Partnership (Wisconsin).

“Chicago’s Southland is an area rich with many positive assets but needs the energy and long-term commitment of a development authority to overcome many strong headwinds,” Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle said. “We have worked closely with the business and philanthropic communities, residents and elected officials to create this innovative approach to growing the economy.”

The SDA will be a lead partner with other developers, investors and stakeholders in jumpstarting economic growth for the entire region.

The SDA itself is a not-for-profit organization. The board of directors of the authority consists of 16 business and community leaders.

SDA will create formal working relationships with the South Suburban Land Bank and Development Authority (SSLBDA) and with a financial entity. 

The SSLBDA is an intergovernmental entity created by local governments in the Southland. It has been successful in addressing abandoned property among its 26 member suburbs. It can assemble vacant properties, abate back taxes and partner with the SDA to serve as a predevelopment for the region. 

The finance entity will assemble finance tools that have gone underused in the Southland due to fragmentation, capacity constraints and complexity of the instruments. These include bonding authority, tax-advantaged investments, enterprise zones and other forms of place-based incentives.

Like other development authorities around the country, the SDA is designed to be financially self supporting within a few years. Startup financial support has been contributed by Cook County, the MacArthur Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust and the Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust.

“We needed to do something different,” said Carter Sterling, president of Sterling Lumber and one of the founding co-chairs of the leadership group that created SDA. “Old methods of dealing with economic growth in the South Suburbs were not working anymore.”

“As an elected official, I have seen, first-hand, the enormous challenges facing businesses and residents of the Chicago Southland,” said Vernard Alsberry Jr., mayor of the Village of Hazel Crest. “We need an approach that allows us to cross historical fragmentation and local competition then move forward, together, through coordinated, well managed investments.”

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