Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik says the village can't afford to sit back in the wake of a major business fleeing to Wisconsin.
Kovarik said she intends to push for the hiring of a full-time staff economic development coordinator who would be responsible for business attraction and retention. She said she wants village board trustees to authorize the position for the new budget year starting May 1.
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"I will expect our economic development coordinator to be savvy at marketing and sales with the same collaboration, dedication and commitment to the community as the rest of our staff," Kovarik said Thursday at her annual mayor's luncheon at KeyLime Cove Waterpark Resort. "I expect this person to have a dossier on every single business in Gurnee and will know more about their business -- strategy, growth plans and needs -- than anyone else."
Kenall Manufacturing, which has produced high-quality lighting products in Gurnee for 25 years, announced last week it will expand into a 354,000-square-foot facility to be built in Kenosha, allowing room for growth. The company received an unspecified incentive package from Wisconsin to move to Business Park of Kenosha just off I-94 at Highway 158.
It's expected Kenall will vacate its 120,000-square-foot building in Gurnee in 18 to 24 months. Kenall has about 400 employees and intends to create 350 more jobs in the coming years, according to the company.
Kovarik said Kenall represents the loss of a global company. She said while the Lake County Partners economic development agency and state officials became aggressive and assembled a generous incentive package for Kenall to remain in Gurnee, the effort came too late and led her to contemplate how to prevent such a situation from arising again.
"We were dependent on Lake County Partners and the state of Illinois to conduct and lead the retention efforts," Kovarik said. "I don't ever want to be in that position again. It's our destiny, and Gurnee needs to be in control and in the driver's seat. We also need to know sooner -- a company doesn't just up and decide to seek out a new location and execute ... it all in the space of a few months."
Kovarik said Gurnee recently lost another manufacturing company to Wisconsin and that she's heard from other businesses about "poaching" efforts by the Badger State. She said the economic development coordinator would lead the creation of tactical campaigns for retention, growth and business attraction.
"We just have to step up our game with a strategic offense," Kovarik said. "Losing Kenall was a wake-up call. This is a fight. A fight for our business community. A fight for the future viability of our community. I don't pick fights, but when I'm in one, I am in it to win. We can't afford to be caught with our pants down again."
An executive with Newmark Grubb Knight Frank Global Corporate Services, who helped Kenall with the move, cited Business Park of Kenosha's proximity to Gateway Technical College. The executive, Robert Hess, said Gateway will provide an important source of skilled labor and customized training for Kenall.