Elgin Mayor David Kaptain talked about the city's last four eras in his state of the city address Tuesday before members of the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce.
The first era was marked by the success of the Watch Factory; the second he called the dark ages as the city floundered for decades following the close of Elgin's largest employer; the third came with opening of the Grand Victoria Casino; and the fourth -- which Kaptain said is ongoing -- started with the economic crash.
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In a common refrain repeated since about 2008, Kaptain said the world changed during the "Great Recession." Revenues from the casino have plummeted in the last five years and falling property values have hurt a city largely dependent on property taxes. The city council responded by diversifying its revenue base, creating new taxes and shifting to a "pay for what you use" philosophy for services, he said.
According to Kaptain, Elgin's future will be marked by a focus on becoming an international city, by providing for a rapidly aging senior population, by expanding rapid transit from the city to other destinations and by offering a one-stop shop connecting people to city and social services.
"Elgin is a place that you come to get help; that's what a city is," Kaptain said. "We need to recognize that we are a city. We're not a village anymore; we're not a small town."
Kaptain also spoke about what Elgin already has and should be proud of. The city has been recognized for its sustainability initiatives, it has education options stretching from elementary school to Judson University, the second lowest crime rate of any major city in the state, two hospitals, a symphony, youth arts programs and a planetarium.
Kaptain said that list rounds out an incentive package that sells itself. The city council has moved away from offering cash as part of economic development efforts to convince businesses to choose Elgin, but Kaptain said the city will be able to help businesses be more successful through grant and education opportunities and networking assistance.
In his second such speech of his first mayoral term, Kaptain spoke of Elgin's strengths and ended on the city's potential as a regional leader.
"The days of us being a follower are over," Kaptain said. "I don't want us to be like Naperville anymore, I don't want us to be like Geneva -- I want us to be like Elgin."