A new development group was launched this week to help revive economically depressed towns among Chicago’s south suburbs.
The Southland Development Authority is a new public-private partnership designed to attract business to the south suburbs. The not-for-profit organization will link investors with south suburban municipalities and provide staff and resources for economic development projects.
“The south suburbs are facing challenges with declining investment, higher tax burden, population loss — but we’re also a very strong, undiscovered market with considerable assets,” said Kristi DeLaurentiis, one of the 16 newly seated board members of the Southland Development Authority.
DeLaurentiis said the group will serve as a “one-stop shop” for south suburban towns, many of which lack the resources to engage with developers. The Southland Development Authority, she said, would provide personnel, expertise and financing for towns to help them attract investors and businesses.
Pointing out the south suburbs’ “long history and legacy of being a manufacturing hub,” DeLaurentiis added that one of the aims of the Southland group is to attract industry back to the region. “We can look at repurposing former sites or looking for other areas that make sense with our rail and road and waterway infrastructure that we have in the south suburbs,” she said.
According to a WBEZ analysis of data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, between 2001 and 2018, south suburban Cook County witnessed modest job growth in some industries like health care, food services and warehousing. However, that area also saw dramatic job losses in retail, manufacturing and construction.
Overall, south suburban Cook County suffered a net loss of nearly 24,000 jobs between 2001 and 2018, according to WBEZ’s analysis. In some municipalities, the number of jobs shrank by more than half.
DeLaurentiis said she hopes the Southland Development Authority, the first of its kind in Illinois, will stem some of that decline. Modeled after similar efforts in other parts of the country, the organization plans to hire an executive director and other staff in the coming months.