MEDC first year ‘springboard’ for second-year plans in Morton

Nathan Domenighini

Officials from the Morton Economic Development Council flexed the organization’s 1-year-old muscle during Monday night’s village board meeting at Freedom Hall.

It has actually been a year-and-a-half since the Morton Chamber of Commerce announced the Morton EDC’s creation, developed through an investor-based campaign known as Morton in Motion, in January 2008.

But, Morton EDC president Jim Benckendorf marked executive director Jennifer Daly’s June 2008 start as the beginning of the organization’s first annual report to the Morton village board.

Benckendorf discussed the organization’s mission — retaining and supporting existing businesses and attracting new businesses to Morton — as well as the Morton EDC action teams and annual statistics.

The organization’s six action teams — Business Expansion and Retention, Business Recruitment, Retail Recruitment, Entrepreneurial Support, Downtown Development and Organization — are supported through 38 investors and 35 volunteers.

The organization has worked, or is currently working, with 55 clients — 27 existing and 28 new companies. Of those businesses, 25 are industrial, eight are professional/technical and 22 are retail/service.

Perhaps the Morton EDC’s big moment came just recently after a trip to RECON, a retail-recruitment expo in Las Vegas, when Daly and Morton Mayor Norm Durflinger returned with three potential retailers looking to locate in Morton.

Though Morton EDC officials will not divulge, or even hint, which businesses have expressed interest, they have indicated the possible recruitment is a major step for the organization.

“It does give us credibility,” Benckendorf said after the meeting. “It is something that is real — tangible.

“It lends a lot of credence to what the village has been doing,” he added.

In January, the Morton EDC carried out its first annual investor’s luncheon, bringing in keynote speaker Mike Blouin.

Blouin, president of the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation located in Dubuque, Iowa, discussed the recent recruitment of an IBM IT service center in Dubuque.

The addition, Blouin said, changes a blue-collar city to a blue- and white-collar city. IBM will bring 1,300 new jobs to that area.

Benckendorf and Daly both look back to that speech as something for which the organization can strive.

“We’ve made these strides,” Benckendorf said. “There’s a whole lot of room for growth.”

Reaching the one-year mark is significant, but only half of the plan for the Morton EDC, Daly said.

“The plan we put together is a two-year plan,” Daly said. “To us, its like a 50 percent point.

“We knew the first year was going to be a building year,” she added. “We’re going to see a lot of action from the (action) teams. Their projects are really just beginning to take flight.”

The real results have yet to arise, Benckendorf added.

“Morton has always been a wonderful community to live in,” he said. “We’re making sure we push beyond that. Yes, we have been great. Now, let’s tell the world.”

Other business

• Schooner’s of Morton, 630 W. Jackson, and Mullen’s Irish Pub, 128 W. Queenwood, both were approved for Class E liquor licenses, which allows the two businesses to construct and open an outdoor drinking/eating venue.

• Main Street, from Birchwood to Jackson, will be resurfaced as part of an agreement entered between the Illinois Department of Transportation and the village of Morton. Morton will pay $77,162 of $290,000 for the milling and resurfacing of about 3,150 feet of road. The rest of the money, $212,838, was funded by federal stimulus money through the Federal Highway Administration.

• Three tourism grants were awarded for various programs requesting assistance: the Morton High School Marching Band Boosters will receive $9,900 for its fourth annual MHS Marching Band Invitational Sept. 19; the St. Jude 5K Road Race will receive $2,000 for its event Oct. 3; and the Morton Tourism Association will receive $2,000 to go toward the July 18 Midwest Cruiser’s Car Club Cruise in on Main Street.