Niles is known as a thriving business community, but that doesn't just happen.
Ross Klicker, who started Dec. 17 as the village's Economic Development Marketing Coordinator, will be working to bring in new businesses and keep existing businesses happy.
But it doesn't stop there. With a recent master's degree in community development, Klicker, 42, says it takes lots of factors, including social, economic and politcal capital, to make a community thrive.
He also talked about new businesses planning to open, a new website and mobile app for Niles and the possibility of bringing in the designer of Millennium Park.
Patch.com sat down with him to chat.
Does Niles have a reputation as a business-friendly town? What had you heard about it?
Ross Klicker: In terms of business, it has a great reputation. I've already gone to my first trade show representing Niles, and it was refreshing to work for a community retailers know is there, and they want to talk to you.
It all goes back to the diversity of the community and its strength.
What exactly do you do in your job?
The way I see it, it's not just going to trade shows and trying to get new businesses in town. It's to work with existing businesses and keep them happy. And to work with residents and find out what they need. What would want to make you shop in Niles even more? What would make you want to recommend Niles as a place to live? It's going to a holistic approach of what would strengthen the entire community.
Niles has a history of being a political town. How does that affect how others see it?
Even with the political history, Niles is and has been a town that can get things done. I don't think the political history in that respect is detrimental. It's always been viewed as a community that provides great servcies and has what its residents need.
That was 20 years ago, that's today and we're doing everything to make sure that's how it's viewed in the future.
So you take a holistic approach to the way communities function?
The community development degree acknowledges that there's sociology, psychology, planning, economics that goes into it. I even took classes on environmental preservation. It was an exciting program. It gets you out of the silo thinking of, 'I do planning' or 'I do permits.' It's more about 'everything affects everything else.'
Traditionally, people think of planning as permitting or economic development, but it should really be about strengthening the community--the political, social, economic capital, in general making your community a stronger place to live and a place people want to be.
I see now how permits are tied to economic development, and the political and social structure. It's been exciting. It's more of a global approach.
I get the impression a lot of residents are only vaguely aware Niles has an industrial area.
I don't think a lot of people know our industrial area; there are some retail stores there. Affy Tapple has an excellent retail store, for example. We need to take pride in our industrial users and promote them and help them become even more successful than they are.
I want to find out what we can do better. Part of that is promoting.
What things will you be working on in the near term and the long-term?
Near term, we're working on a site selection tool (website) for commercial and industrial properties.
We're also looking at taking the Dine-In Niles program to a mobile application.
The Dine-In Niles program is great, but people lose the card, or they forget it at home. This way they would have it on their smartphone.
We're improving the streetscape of Milwaukee Avenue. We just met with Ed Uhler, who's the designer of Millennium Park. He seems to have a little track record there. We discussed the possibililty of some gateway features for Niles.
We had a discussion with him, and he's going to develop a proposal for services for what he believes he could do for us. At that point we'd have to go to the board and see if they'd want to further discussions.
Long term, we're built out, so you can't build new development; it's going to be redevelopment. So we're going to look at some mechanisms to help those who want to redevelop.
Niles lacks a downtown. Some say it's Milwaukee Avenue, but that's not really a walkable gathering spot. What to do about that?
There's the Milwaukee Streetscape program, and then our discussion with Ed--the idea being, can we create something? Can we create a community space that would further enhance the comunity devlopment, to celebrate what's going on in the community?
Tell us a little about your background. Where have you worked before?
I live in Arlington Heights, and was born there. After graduating from Iowa State University in community and regional planning, I started working in Hoffman Estates as a property maintenance inspector and zoning technician.
Then I went to the village of Elk Grove, working on streamlining the the permit review process for residents and businesses.
Then I went to Streamwood, where I was in charge of property maintenance programs and geographic information systems.
And then in Wood Dale I was the planning and economic development coordinator.
While I was there, I got my masters degree in community development in an online program from Iowa State University (he explained he studied with others all over the world, which yielded a diversity of viewpoints).
What shape is Niles in now, business-wise, and what does it need to do?
Quite honestly, Niles is in really good shape now. I don't believe the recession hit Niles as hard as other communities. I guess we're a town for the everyman. We've never gone high end with retail. We're not catering to a specific segment of the population. Because Niles in the past had cast a wide net, we weathered the recession better than a lot of towns.
Are any businesses planning to open soon?
Yes. In Four Flaggs, Five Below will be opening (everything costs $5 or below). We're working on other things, but they're in the negotiation stage. We're very happy about Ginza Steak and Sushi opening at Golf Mill.
In terms of industrial businesses, Johns Byrne is expanding. And a company called Imbibe, which makes syrups for the beverage industry, will be coming. From my understanding, say a retailer has an idea for a new drink; they'll make the private label formula.
Which businesses have closed recently?
New York & Co. and Deb, both women's clothing stores at Golf Mill. Jewel has announced the store at Four Flaggs is closing, but we're very confident that store will be refilled in a short time frame.
The fact that Niles can support 17 grocery stores shows a lot.
Are certain sectors struggling? Or is it mostly individual businesses that are struggling?
It's not an entire sector that's suffering. We didn't go with any one sector. Niles is a great location, it has everything you need. If a business is struggling, it may be more an individual business, not a community flaw.