Oswego’s new economic development director seeks to lure more restaurants, specialty retailers and entertainment to village

Economic development director Kevin Leighty at Oswego Village Hall, Aug. 3. (photo provided)

Oswego’s new economic development director Kevin Leighty is looking to attract high-end restaurants, specialty retailers and family entertainment to the village.

Leighty brings nearly a decade of experience and a real enthusiasm for economic development to the village.

“I love municipal government,” Leighty said. “It gives me a chance to make a difference in the community and it’s something I plan on being in for the rest of my career.”

Leighty is originally from Bartlett and graduated from South Elgin High School before attending Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. He earned his Masters of Public Administration (MPA) from NIU in 2014.

While earning his degree from NIU, he interned with the city of Elmhurst and was able to assist in the city’s economic development.

After earning his MPA, Leighty worked for over seven years as a management analyst for the village of Schaumburg’s economic development department. During his time in Schaumburg he worked in business retention and expansion, business recruitment marketing, and incentive programs.

Leighty was hired by the village of Oswego on May 2, and currently resides in Warrenville.

Leighty said the balance of quaintness and economic activity attracted him to Oswego. After meeting village staff, he said their vision for economic development and desire for a proactive director with strong business and community relationships made him sure he wanted to work for the village.

Leighty said the relationships he formed in Schaumburg with restaurant and entertainment groups will help him fulfill the Village Board’s desire to bring high quality dining and entertainment to Oswego.

Leighty said he was happy in Schaumburg, but felt that he was ready to take on more responsibility and after touring the community he was blown away.

“It’s always scary to leave a job that you love,” Leighty said, “But ever since my first day, it’s felt like the right decision.”

Economic development director Kevin Leighty at Oswego Village Hall, Aug. 3. (photo provided)

Leighty said Village President Troy Parlier’s plans for “smart growth” aligned with his own vision, and made it feel like a great fit.

“A lot of communities will use economic development as a tool to rapidly grow and expand,” Leighty said. “That’s all well and good, but it needs to be done intelligently. You have a lot of residents who have been here for years and years, and you don’t want to change the community too much.”

Leighty said the purpose of economic development is to thoughtfully grow businesses in town, enhance job opportunities, reinvest in the community, and bring in new investments, which ultimately helps offset the tax burden on residents.

“We do that by actively recruiting new business into town to fill a niche or demand like family entertainment, and by helping existing businesses expand,” he said.

Leighty is developing a business retention and expansion program for the village that will identify businesses in the community and work with them to find out how the village can help them grow.

One of the economic development director’s responsibilities is to take inventory of current businesses, commercial real estate and development opportunities within the village.

Leighty said the inventory of Oswego businesses and storefronts showed vacancy rates well below industry average, and his office will maintain that by reaching out to local commercial real estate owners with vacancies and working with retail brokers to help the owners fill vacancies with quality businesses and assist with the permitting processes.

Leighty said the low cost of doing business, opportunities for business development, and active residential development to support the businesses make the village an attractive prospect for businesses.

Still, to compete with other communities, Leighty said it is also important to utilize incentives like the downtown business grant, which the village budgets $40,000 for annually, the revolving loan fund, and possibly sales tax rebates for large retailers like Costco.

Bringing a Costco to Oswego has been a goal of the village since long before Leighty started, but he said landing a “whale” retailer like Costco is still a high priority for his office.

“I would say it boils down to relationship building,” Leighty said. “I want to maintain those relationships and keep reminding them why Oswego would be a lucrative place for them to invest in.”

Leighty said the development of businesses along Orchard Road on the village’s far west side is also a big priority for his office, and he would like to bring restaurants that offer high-end dining, specialty retailers and more family entertainment to that part of town as well.

Leighty is eyeing bringing a Cooper’s Hawk to the village, and noted that there are several great local and national restaurant groups that he would like to work with.

“I’m happy to be here, and I’m very excited about the future here in Oswego,” Leighty said.