New Des Plaines Mayor Matt Bogusz kicked off his first day on the job by visiting local businesses Tuesday morning, before heading to Springfield to meet with the city's lobbyists and lawmakers to talk about gambling expansion.
Bogusz said no city leader has visited Springfield in the past five months during which Des Plaines has had four aldermen rotating as acting mayors.
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"It's a top priority," he said, adding that he has been working behind the scenes to keep abreast of any new developments in proposed gambling expansion legislation, which in its current iteration doesn't include any concessions for Des Plaines. "Now it's time to roll up our sleeves and make sure we have a complete understanding of what's happening downstate."
Bogusz started his tour Tuesday at J.B. Metal Works, Inc., a family-owned business on Lee Street, which has been operating in town since 1946. The business has endured despite the economic downturn and evolved over the years to provide a wide range of metal works, said owner Steve Burval.
"Ornamental iron is one-third to half our work," said Burval, 66, who took over the business from his father, a Chicago blacksmith. "Business has been up and down. We're still here."
Bogusz said the city needs to first recognize existing businesses that are doing well, if it wants to attract new businesses.
"Des Plaines is open for all kinds of businesses," Bogusz said in a message to prospective businesses wanting to locate in town. "It takes a team. We have a strong one together with the council. We want to highlight businesses to the outside community."
From metal works to something more representative of his generation, Bogusz's second stop was Americaneagle.com, a website development firm newly relocated to Des Plaines River Road from neighboring Park Ridge.
The company provides website development, hosting and maintenance services to more than 5,000 customers, and employs roughly 230 workers nationwide. Its clientele includes the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Transportation Authority, Baxter, Rust-Oleum Corporation and the American Dental Association.
It also redeveloped the Whitehouse.gov website in 2008 before the transition to the Obama administration, said owner Tony Svanascini.
"It's a great spot," Svanascini said of the company's 60,000-square-foot Des Plaines headquarters, adding that he hopes to keep expanding the business. "We can put up to 340 people (here) comfortably. This year, we expect to grow anywhere between 15 percent to 20 percent."
Bogusz said he chose these businesses to visit to highlight that "innovation comes in all forms."
But the real point of his tour was to announce a new push to streamline the city's process of obtaining a new business license. Right now, it takes six to eight weeks from the time of application to get a license, Bogusz said.
While that is not that uncommon in the region, new businesses also have to navigate 150 pages of city code in Des Plaines, whereas in some towns there is not as much bureaucracy, officials said.
Bogusz said he hopes to shorten the processing time to two weeks "to better suit the way the business world works."
Bogusz's enthusiasm to work with businesses is being received well in the community.
"I think that we're embarking on a new time with the new mayor because he is very much pro business," said Jim Ulett, chairman of Des Plaines' Economic Development Commission. "I think he's going to be extremely involved in business retention. It's going to be an exciting time for Des Plaines. We've got a young mayor that understands what needs to be done."
City Manager Mike Bartholomew said the connection with business owners had somewhat been lost since the city council eliminated the economic development director position in 2010. Bartholomew said he tried to serve that role when he was community and economic development director, along with being in charge of the planning, building, and code enforcement departments.
"When you have all those roles, it's hard to really do a good job at each one of them," he said.
The city council Monday night approved hiring an economic development consultant that will begin to fill that void, he added.
"We need (businesses) to have a direct contact inside city hall," Bartholomew said. "It's a full-time job. Someone needs to be at city hall and out in the community every day ... building those relationships."
Bartholomew said the city needs a simultaneous, three-pronged approach: recognizing longtime businesses that have been successful, helping businesses looking to expand, and bringing in new businesses.
"You can't leave somebody out in the cold," he said.
Bogusz ended his tour Tuesday where his mayoral campaign began last fall at the Choo-Choo Restaurant in downtown, a Des Plaines staple for more than 60 years.
Owner Jean Paxton shared stories about how she first met Bogusz and supported his bid for mayor.
Bogusz returned the favor Tuesday by saying, "Jean's an example of what a business in Des Plaines is and should continue to be. She really does embody what's best about business. Places like hers give essential character to a city."