Evanston’s Economic Development Committee Wednesday night started work to update the city’s economic development goals — including what sort of jobs the city should be trying to attract.
EDC member Jeanne Lindwall noted that the city has been trying for years to make housing more affordable for the people who live here.
She suggested that in addition to building more subsidized housing, another way to tackle the issue is to try to attract more jobs that pay well enough so that the workers can afford the city’s existing housing stock.
It’s important to know what income levels newly-created jobs would provide, Lindwall said. “Somebody making $50,000 has a very hard time finding a place to live in Evanston. But if their income is $150,000 a year, finding housing is a much simpler proposition.”
Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said rate of pay would be a good way to quantify how desirable new jobs are to attract.
Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said he was “really glad we’re having this discussion.” He added that some of his constituents had suggested that the city should consider “Social Return on Investments,” a concept he conceded he needed to read up more on himself, but he thought its goals might help Evanstonians be more able to afford the community.
Nieuwsma also suggested the city should prioritize supporting locally-owned businesses rather than franchises, as well as supporting ownership among women and people of color.
Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said he wanted to learn more about the social return on investments concept, but said he had some initial concerns about whether it would benefit black and brown folk.
Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak listed a range of other criteria that committee members generally agreed should be part of the decision-making process on what business development projects the city might support.
He suggested establishing objectives including reducing inequality, increasing living standards and encouraging sustainable resource use.
He proposed that the city focus on workforce development initiatives, business district improvement strategies, economic resilience and inclusive business development.
And he suggested that the community benefit of proposed projects should be measured in terms of jobs created and retained and local tax revenue generated.
The committee is scheduled to discuss a draft of its proposed work plan at its next meeting, on Jan. 26.