Heights Businessman Proposes His Solution to Economic Issues: Community Column

In a new weekly series, local columnists will discuss the issues and topics that matter most to them. This week former Heights business owner, Arthur Wiggins gives his opinion about the economy.

Arthur W. Wiggins has been a businessman, owning retail and wholesale outlets in the south suburbs, since 1990. The first ward resident brought the car audio lines of Eclipse and Soundstream to the south suburbs before any other dealership. He will be writing in the Community Column once per month.

Two things that drive me the most are fair governmental procedures and growing our economy. Chicago Heights is poised to have a great economic structure, but only if the local government understands the capabilities of its assets.

All the fundamental good of having a sound and fair government is obvious to most. I will not write about that this month.

What is not obvious to most is what Chicago Heights is capable of in terms of an economic comeback. The global economy has shifted the Gross Domestic Product of the United States from being primarily manufactured goods to a GDP that is primarily in the service and financial industries. This is evident by checking the manufacturing label of your purchases each week.

Of our commonly purchased items you will notice that barely anything is made in America. The problem with that is when a country does not produce goods, it then relies on other countries to produce its commonly-needed goods.

The issue of not manufacturing is multi-faceted. A key issue is that our blue collar workers, the majority of America, are left with less than middle class employment.

We are at a point that we cannot compete in labor-related manufacturing because of low labor rates in other countries. But what we do have in America is ingenuity and, although this is not a marketable blue collar export, it can lead us to blue collar middle class employment.

Our fossil fuel energy costs are rising at an alarming rate. This is nothing new. Here is where Chicago Heights has an opportunity to change its negative economic situation into a positive one that could affect all of south suburban Chicago and possibly the Midwest as a whole.

In the height of employment in Chicago and its surrounding areas, infrastructures were put in place to sustain this employment. These infrastructures still exist today. For example, our old logistic system of moving goods in and out of our area is close to being the best in the world. These railways, highways, and open borders are now used more to move the citizenry and imports than our own manufactured goods.

Energy is the key to our economic comeback. Renewable energy is the latest buzz word, but it is a real industry. Speaking from a manufacturing standpoint this industry is operating in the billions of dollars around the world, but barely in the millions in our area.

Take a look at Chicago Heights and its entryways. We have Lincoln Highway that connects us to two important interstate highways. We have industrial land, conveniently accessible to these highways. Last, we have railways that connect to every industrial tract of land in our city.

Now we must ask why these logistically correct lands haven't been taken advantage of, seeing that they are so adequately suited for such a manufacturing comeback.

I have come up with two reasons:

1. We do not know how to attract these companies to our city.

2. The land taxes are so high that any savings in manufacturing is immediately consumed.

I would like to approach the ability to attract businesses. In any business, the way it operates is dictated by its income. This does not happen in government, not how business academics defines it. Every business I’ve ever studied or was involved in had some form of marketing attached to its survival.

On a smaller scale, normally land developers would initiate such endeavors. The scope of this is beyond a normal land developer’s competency. Although a local government can accomplish this type of economic marketing and development, this is a proposition that will affect a region and requires local, county and state cooperation to see it happen successfully.

1.  The city, county, and state must ease taxation on:

     -Any company that manufactures renewable energy products.

     -Any company that manufacture efficient energy products.

     -Any company that offers new products from recycled materials.

     -Any company that does research and development for renewable energy products or efficient energy products.

     -Any company that builds new green structures, for residential or commercial purposes, as their primary work.

2. Government must offer land for sale at a deferred and low price.

3. The local government must hire a marketing team:

     -To pursue companies to participate in this renewable energy industrial plan.

     -To sell the idea that their cost will decrease and their profit will increase.

     -To explain the requirements and expectations of each individual company.

4. Local government must buy all the surrounding vacant property:

     -To prevent price gouging

     -To insure beyond zoning, that the land is used in a manner best fitting
the economic interest.

     -To form easements on all purposed land in order to make underground logistics for support companies that will be part of the renewable energy manufacturing city.

The idea that this will not be a free market is false. The purpose of the government participation in this proposition is that of initiation only. The government’s regulatory authority should be no more than it is currently in any other industry.

The employment that would be created not only includes blue collar, but also white collar and scientific jobs. Bringing this type of true economic stimulus would increase ancillary employment exponentially. The amount of non-industry support businesses this plan would attract can only be guesstimated. The residential growth would ease the taxation rate of the city.

If the industrial land is used efficiently, this proposition in Chicago Heights would create employment in the range of 10,000 to 30,000 jobs. We would engage in business that is currently expanding rapidly. More importantly, we would manufacture products that we can compete with in this global economy right now, and for many years to come.

We have everything in Chicago Heights needed to do this, sans the leadership’s understanding of how to get it done. This and other emerging but real industries are what I seek to promote our economic growth with.

Pursuing this industry with the current strict regulation on waste is not only beneficial to Chicago Heights, but also the jump-start our city, state, and nation need.

Guido Bam Bing May 10, 2011 at 04:52 AM
Art, I really do support many of your ideas, but I believe that your platform is wrong. You seem to be talking about things on a national and state level. In reality, we can not change all of those issues in a few mayoral terms. We need to look that city as its own individual business/island and do things that best help this city. We cant choose and pick what D.C. or Springfield mandates or votes on. -We have to generate business and create jobs on a local level and offer any incentive possible that can ensure tax revenue. This involves developing strong relationships with land owners and city officials. -We need to look at our public housing and design local policies to help better the city to reduce crime and decline in property value. -We need to develop tax revenue so that vital city services like school, police, fire, and streets can serve their residents timely and in an modern age. This involves including all stake-holders in the process and quit the crying of local residents. We need to future and solution orientated. So many people complain about the heights but dont do a thing to help the town. They just jaw jack. Well its time to do something about it. Not one man, city council, or neighborhood has all the answers. We all need to come together and we realize that we share a common goal: To make the city great. Everybody needs to vested into this. Lets bring all of the talents and strengths of are residents together.
Arthur W. Wiggins Jr. May 10, 2011 at 11:49 AM
Thank you for you comment. I do appreciate the dialogue.
Arthur W. Wiggins Jr. May 10, 2011 at 11:54 AM
Rusty you are 100% correct. My proposition, in our cities current state, is nothing but a pipe dream. This is not something by itself that will be successful without criminal intervention and a government that strictly adheres to the wide and varied representation of itself. When anyone undermines the principles of how our government is meant to be established, normally support for any thing good in that governed body will fail. I holdout belief that blatant wrongs I see will be corrected, in that sense I could be wrong and Chicago Heights residents will continue to suffer a dismal and negligent life. On a lighter note thanks for the compliment. Guido Bam Bing You make very valid points, I would like to point out three things: 1) Local government has more control than State or Federal over its decisions, successes, and failures. 2) Greed is a powerful motivator. I can assure you from many of my professional experiences that people follows and do what is best to ensure the continual flow of money. Nothing would be different in the case of State and Federal participation in making an economic engine like this in Chicago Heights. One great example is the proposed South Suburban airport. Even better Mayor Daley's expenditure for the Olympics in Chicago, did you notice how many people in the state and federal government came to his side. 3) Residents have a right to complain, we need clear direction on the repair of our business community. This should be their concern.
Rusty May 10, 2011 at 01:28 PM
Mick, Welcome to the future. I don't know of any large corporation that doesn't factor tax break incentives into the equation when relocating to a new area. You make a good point by offering the perspective of a business man. I was mearly thinking like an economist. New business ventures bring economic value by way of spin-off jobs and value added taxes. An economist might view the whole picture and not just the tax dollars lost from tax breaks. A large venture adds to a community in the long run by attracting additional business ventures. The economic trickle down can be felt by local gas stations, food vendors, car repair shops, retail stores, and any other venture I did not mention. I like to use Ford as an example because they are in the process of shifting additional production to the Chicagoland area. Chicago Heights needs to be on alert for any supply chain ventures that could benefit from locating in the area. I don't think this concept is out of reach.
Mick May 10, 2011 at 02:11 PM
Rusty, it is not the future, but the past. TIF's, tax abatements, and other incentives to attract business are the past and present. But, the victims are the schools most of the time. I agree with you about the trickle around effect, and that the economist view is valid, but I keep going back to the business person's first question: why Chicago Heights? I would imagine that the Heights has been trying to attract businesses, with these incentives, for decades, but the problem is other towns are not going to take it lying down. Case in point: a large plant in Monee, or a mulitmillion dollar facility on 130th and Torrence. Chicago Heights needs to be on alert and the concept is not out of reach, but Indiana and Will County have the same alertness and conception. It's easy to discuss what the Heights must do, and dream, but in reality, Heights residents do their shopping in Orland Park.


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