After bleakly outlining how the economy remains sluggish nationally, Mayor Robert Callero painted a sunnier picture of how business and retail sales are doing in Niles.
The mayor spoke at the Niles Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Annual Mayoral Address Luncheon Thursday at Chateau Ritz. After he spoke, one business person, a corporate property manager, said she was pleased with Niles' efforts.
Niles economy doing better than national picture
"The recession ended in June 2009, but prosperity has not returned," Callero said. "People don’t spend after watching their wealth in home values and retirement savings vanish."
Nevertheless, retail sales revenues in the village increased 4.9 percent in 2010 and 4.6 percent in 2011, he said, expecting that by the time 2012 concludes, retail sales will surpass those of 2007, the year the recession started weakening the economy.
"But it took four years to get back," he noted.
Niles' unemployment rate sits at 7.9 percent, higher than the national average of 7.8 percent, Callero said. However, the Illinois Department of Employment Security puts the unemployment rate at 6.8 percent in the village; also, October statistics will be released Friday, Nov. 2).
About those vacant stores and industrial spaces--there are fewer
Throughout Niles, there are fewer "this space available" signs.
For retail stores, the village has lowered its vacancy rate from 9 percent in September 2010 to 5.3 percent.
For industrial properties, vacancies fell from 11 percent in Sept. 2010 to 9 percent currently, the mayor said.
The village gained 37 new businesses (2,000 square feel and larger), which opened this year, while 26 closed, for a net gain of 11 businesses of that size.
"That represents 200,000 square feet of space added," he said, in addition to new jobs created.
Stronger home sales
On the real estate front, he said home sales have increased, with prices rising 16 percent. Foreclosures are down.
The village is also strongly supporting an initiative by U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, a Democrat, to tax items purchased on the Internet.
"If and when this passes nationally, it will add to sales locally," Callero said.
Niles ranks 13th in Illinois for retail sales
The village's budget is in good shape, with corporate reserves of approximately $22 million and a bond rating of Aa1, the mayor indicated. The corporate general fund budget is approximately $39 million and sales tax receipts are about 63% of that.
"This fiscal year we budgeted an increase in sales tax collections of 2 1⁄2 % over last fiscal year, and currently we are tracking a larger increase," Callero said.
And once again, little Niles has made a name for itself in terms of retail sales.
For the 12 months ended June 30, 2012, Niles ranked 13th in Illinois for retail sales and 3rd for retail sales per capita.
"This is exceptional for a municipality of 29,803 people and an area of only 6 square miles," Callero said.
Help with crushing property taxes?
In a question and answer period, local businessman Joe Walsh, a past president of the Niles Chamber of Commerce, asked if the village was going to do something to help small businesses with crushing Cook County property taxes.
Callero noted that while the village and country try to hold taxes down, schools are the biggest players in tax bills, because about 70 percent of the revenue goes to them. He urged people to go to their school board meetings.
Golf Mill's Future?
Katie Schneider, executive director of the Niles Chamber of Commerce, noted the village board voted down a proposed Business Plan for Golf Mill Shopping Center (which would have included a 0.25 percent sales tax on items sold at the center), which the center expected would help it revitalize.
Callero said Golf Mill management is doing exactly the right thing by investing in the mall and putting in the new sit-down restaurant (Osaka Grill) and junior department store (Ross Dress for Less), and opening additional outlot businesses.
"Once the board sees they have their own blood in the project, you may get a change," he said, adding that while he favored the business plan, a majority of trustees voted it down.
Restaurateur Tony Riggio of Riggio's asked if there were a delay in finishing up the beautification (pavement and landscaping) at Milwaukee Avenue and Oakton Street. Scott Jochim, the Public Services department chair, said it was dependent on improving traffic lights at the intersection.
Niles ahead of other towns in trying to attract business
After the speech, Anna Maria Kowalik, Assistant Vice President and Regional Property Manager of Inland Commercial Property Management and Inland Real Estate Group, who oversees Four Flaggs Shopping Center at Golf and Milwaukee Avenues, said the mayor's figures were right on target, in that Four Flaggs has 100 percent occupancy.
"The trend we're seeing is the same trend he noted--increased interest from retailers, and new concepts (such as Ross Dress for Less and hhgregg) into this new market," she said.
She also was pleased that Niles was pursuing fairness in trying to see that Internet retailers pay sales tax.
"We are also supporting the Marketplace Fairness Act of Senator Durbin," she said, "or what's known as the Internet sales tax issue. The Village of Niles is above the cut."
Finally, she was glad to hear Community Service Director Chuck Ostman say that the village participates in the International Council of Shopping Centers conventions, putting its name before retailers looking to expand into the area.