People frequently ask me how Morton has gained so much momentum in the past few years. While many individuals have played key roles in our newfound surge, the real secret to our success has been simply this: We know where we’re going.
In 2006, Mayor Norm Durflinger and our village trustees decided the community needed to develop a comprehensive plan to provide direction and vision for the village as a whole. More than 300 citizens actively participated in the development of the plan, which was completed in 2007 and officially adopted in 2008. This plan was instrumental in the development of a new economic development council, as well as many of the actions that council has embarked on over the past four years.
The Morton Economic Development Council, structured as a nonprofit organization with investment from both the public and private sectors, established a synergistic partnership where action in support of the comprehensive plan could be carried out in a collective, coordinated way. Through this organization, village officials and business leaders have been able to develop a targeted and measurable economic development strategy for Morton focused on the creation of high-quality jobs and an excellent quality of life for our residents.
During the comprehensive planning process, downtown redevelopment was a priority expressed by many of our citizens. In response to that concern, a downtown development plan was completed by the Chicago firm Houseal Lavigne. That plan is already being put into action. A centerpiece for the redeveloped downtown is a destination plaza with interactive water jets, a children’s play space, stage and seating area, and a veterans memorial. The plaza design is well underway and should be completed by the Farnsworth Group this fall. We hope to begin construction by the spring of 2014.
A strategy to increase tourism traffic and support our retail development efforts was unveiled last year when the Morton EDC completed a study for an indoor waterpark and family entertainment complex. The results are now being reviewed by 22 hotel and waterpark developers throughout the country, and we will be attending a trade show in November to meet with prospective developers. Morton is an ideal location for this type of family-friendly complex, and the resulting tourism traffic could boost our economy by leaps and bounds.
We are also reaching well outside the region—and even the country—in search of business growth and job creation. When Yinlun chose Morton for its U.S. headquarters, we knew it was the perfect opportunity to form an international strategy for business recruitment and investment. This fall, we will be taking 32 delegates to China for a 10-day trip that integrates sightseeing and relationship building with our new sister city and Yinlun’s home, Tiantai. During this trip, Morton EDC staff, in partnership with Yinlun and the State of Illinois, will be meeting with businesses who have expressed interest in a Midwest location. Three students will also be part of our delegation, and they will have an exchange with high schoolers in Tiantai. This trip could lay important groundwork for our business recruitment and expansion efforts, both in Morton and across the region.
In four short years, Morton is already seeing some excellent results from its strategic actions and targeted investments. Since June of 2008, the Morton EDC has assisted 22 existing businesses with expansions and brought 25 new businesses to the community. In total, the organization has helped to create 543 new jobs and retain 1,027 in the village.
And it all comes back to that initial comprehensive plan. Morton knows where it’s going, which sure makes getting there a heck of a lot easier! iBi