Aurora mayoral candidates debate strategies for economic development
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin says he's pleased with the progress made during his first four years in office to attract new businesses, create jobs and spur redevelopment.
But in a heated Daily Herald endorsement interview, his two challengers said they believe the city can do better -- and possibly take a new approach -- to boost the local economy.
10th Ward Alderman Judd Lofchie and former East Aurora Unit District 131 school board member John Laesch are vying to unseat Irvin, who is seeking a second mayoral term in the April 6 election. While Lofchie and Laesch say they disagree with the incumbent's leadership style and believe the city needs new direction, Irvin called his opponents "Monday morning quarterbacks" and said his initiatives have produced results.
Economic development has been a priority for the mayor, who pointed to the addition of manufacturing space, the celebration of more than 140 ribbon cuttings and the revitalization of vacant downtown buildings as signs of success. His administration created a city office designated for economic development, he said, and has worked closely with Invest Aurora to build relationships and incentivize companies to set up shop in town.
If reelected, his plan is to "double down and take it to the next level," said Irvin, who previously served 10 years on the council as alderman at-large.
"We can't any longer sit as a city and wait for some business to knock on our door," he said.
"We've got to take a direct, proactive approach to economic development."
A lawyer and real estate broker first elected to the council in 2017, Lofchie says the city needs to eliminate red tape and streamline the development review and approval process. Calling himself a "pro-development alderman," he encouraged flexibility in zoning regulations and criticized the current administration for being too selective in the projects it moves forward.
"As mayor, I would bend over backward," Lofchie said. "Anything we could do, we would try and do to get (businesses) open."
More can be done to improve the downtown streetscape and generate activity in the area, he said. But he believes the city should "get out of the real estate business," sell the properties it owns and allow the private sector to determine their fate.
For Laesch, a union carpenter and community activist, transforming Aurora into an energy-efficient city is at the center of his platform, not only for the environmental benefits, he said, but also for the economic rewards.
Adopting policies around the green building movement would make Aurora desirable to a whole new industry -- businesses that specialize in insulation, energy-efficient windows and renewable energy -- and expand opportunities for federal and state grants, he said.
"We need somebody who's going to work a little bit harder to bring money into our community," Laesch said.
The initiative also would create local jobs, he said, for which training programs could be developed through partnerships with Aurora school districts and colleges.
His opponents, however, questioned the effectiveness of Laesch's strategy.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, Lofchie said, a more realistic approach would be to connect students entering the workforce with existing labor opportunities through vocational programs.
Irvin said job creation stems from the city's growth and ability to support new and existing businesses.