State of Community focuses on industry, development, education in Sycamore

The panel listens as Brian Gregory, DeKalb County administrator, speaks during the State of the Community address Thursday, May 11, 2023, in the DeKalb County Community Foundation Freight Room in Sycamore. The event was hosted by the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce.

SYCAMORE – Community leaders came together Thursday to offer Sycamore-centered updates on economic growth, parks and education in what the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce billed as a state of the community address.

Around 60 individuals representing a myriad of local businesses filled the DeKalb County Community Foundation’s Freight Room at 8 a.m. Thursday to hear remarks from Sycamore Community School District 427 Superintendent Steve Wilder, Kishwaukee College President Laurie Borowicz, Sycamore City Manager Michael Hall, Sycamore Park District Executive Director Jonelle Bailey, DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Paul Borek and DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory.

“I think it was awesome. I think it’s wonderful to hear some of the positive things that are happening. We’ve been through a rough couple of years. Things are picking up, developments are picking up, everything is,” said Rose Treml, Sycamore chamber executive director.

Treml said the chamber used to host similar events in the years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, and hopes to have more forums in the future.

“These are great community leaders. It’s something we’re going to do on an annual basis, if not maybe twice a year, because I think the community, the business community in particular needs to know what’s going on,” Treml said.

Each speaker highlighted the work the organizations they represent did during 2022.

Industrial growth in DeKalb County

Borek said the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation met with and assisted 72 companies prepare proposals for expansion projects last year, resulting in 20 new business development projects throughout DeKalb County. In 2022, there was $830 million worth of capital investment projects for over 2 million square feet of space in the county, Borek said.

“Industrial evaluation in the county is now just a shade under $200 million dollars, or 7% of the county’s total [equalized accessed value] ,” Borek said. “This is significant because the industrial component of EAV throughout the county had been stagnant at 4% for the last 40 or 50 years, so this is a significant increase after being limited to that level. And that percentage is likely to increase even more to 10, 12% as new construction is completed and accessed.”

From 1987 through 1999 DeKalb County saw $2 billion worth of industrial development, from 2020 through 2022 $1.9 billion were put into industrial developments throughout the county, according to a DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation power point slide. Additionally, Borek said nearly $1.8 billion of new industrial development is in the works for the county over the coming year.

“Our staff is extremely talented and that is the main reason we were honored for this nomination,” Bailey said.

—  Executive Director of Sycamore Park District Jonelle Bailey

Gregory focused on the growth of industrial properties in DeKalb County, and how that may lessen the burden on tax payers. The county administrator said billions of dollars worth of industrial development can help the county overall by bringing in increased tax revenue.

“So billion, million. When we say transformation – these projects, the valuation and resources that they’re going to bring to our taxing bodies, and take the pressure off of the residents and off of the small businesses, that’s what it’s about, diversifying the tax base, Gregory said.

Tim Beasley, a financial advisor for Edward Jones in Sycamore, said he felt the Sycamore community was well represented at the state of the community address, and was struck by the growth of industrial development in DeKalb County.

“I really appreciate the $2 billion mark for the increased industrial development and what that means as far as the school system, and what that’ll generate,” Beasley said. “And I do have a lingering thought about the younger professionals that come in – the housing availability in Sycamore and DeKalb, I have a concern about that.”

What’s going on in Sycamore?

Sycamore Park District is celebrating 100 years of operation in 2023, but the district’s executive director said there’s more to celebrate than the centennial anniversary. This spring Sycamore Park District was named one of the four finalists for a national gold medal award by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association.

Sycamore Park District is a finalist in the category for municipalities with a population of less than 30,000 and is competing against the city of Macedonia’s Parks & Recreation department, Cullman Parks from Cullman, Alabama and the Oak Brook Park District in Oak Broak Illinois.

“Our staff is extremely talented and that is the main reason we were honored for this nomination,” Bailey said.

The winner of the national award will be decided in October but between then and now Bailey said the Park District staff plans on boasting the nomination to the public.

Hall, Sycamore’s city manager, said economic development is an important part of a growing and successful community. While public safety and road conditions play an important part in attracting new businesses, Hall said other local services – such as area parks and the local school district – can have a large impact on economic development.

“It also relies heavily on schools because when people come in they want to make sure that their children will be educated right. Higher education is extremely important because they want to move and be able to tap into those resources for hiring people,” Hall said. “Parks, all these things here – not just the city – are why a business wants to come here. So I have to make sure that everybody is working together, and we’re all working together, that we bring in and make a nice community for those businesses that want to come here.”

Education updates

Wilder said Sycamore Community School District 427 “successfully” redrew the boundaries between the district’s elementary schools earlier this year.

“Successfully means we got the job done and we got it done through a very dedicated effort of two-way dialogue with our staff, families and our community,” Wilder said. “So we worked very hard to open that up so we weren’t just telling the community what we were going to do. We listened.”

Since the district’s board of educators approved the new boundary lines in February, the Sycamore school district has been working to implement the changes for the up coming school year.

Fellow educator, Borowicz said her son attended middle school and high school through the Sycamore School District, and had nothing but praise for the district.

Borowicz, the president of Kishwaukee College since 2016, said in the fall of 2022 the college saw the first increase in fall enrollment since 2011. Though the enrollment is about half of what the school had a decade ago, Borowicz said the school is increasingly serving a more diverse student body.

“We are 48% diverse at Kishwaukee College. Our largest group of students of our diverse population is our hispanic, Latinx population – we are almost 25%. I do believe next year we’ll be a hispanic serving institution, and we’re very proud of that,” Borowicz said. “And here’s another thing we’re really proud of; our hispanic students perform and graduate at almost the same level as the white students. So that’s a wonderful thing.”

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