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‘It is nothing short of remarkable’: Building permits increase throughout Jo Daviess County during pandemic

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GALENA–The Jo Daviess County Ad-Hoc Economic Development Committee met on Monday, July 6. Eric Tison, planning and development administrator, provided data showing an increase in building permits compared to previous years.

“Eighty-five percent of permits have been done over the last three months,” said Tison. “It is nothing short of remarkable.”

Steve McIntyre, committee chairman, said in the month of June there were 14 closings totaling $3.5 million in The Galena Territory, most so far this year.

“It is really needed,” said McIntyre, who is also a realtor. “The biggest problem is being able to show the houses. People want to move here.”

Dan Reimer, county administrator, said the county is 13 percent ahead on deed transfers.

Reimer also said building permits are up compared to recent years.

“It is absolutely unbelievable what’s happening,” said Reimer. “Eric has already passed the total amount of permits he issued at this time last year.”

According to Reimer, the record for permits in the county since zoning began is 318 which occurred in 2005. Last year was 303.

Reimer said that the total value of permits this year, $17.1 million, has already surpassed the total from last year.

“It is saying a lot and it shows people are looking to move to Jo Daviess County,” said Reimer. “We haven’t begun pushing it yet.”

“With what happened with the rioting, it wasn’t just limited to Chicago. For the first time that I remember, looters and rioters went into the suburbs. I know they were looting stores in Naperville. You have crime in Rockford and home sales are down there too. People want to be safe,” said Scott Toot, county board chairman. “Folks want to work from home and want to be somewhere where they can be safe. Honestly, you will see more come here because of that.”

McIntyre believed that the county missed an opportunity to wait to put items in place to attract people to the community.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want to live in the city anymore,” said McIntyre. “Connectivity is a huge impact on working from home. That’s what people are wanting to do and looking for.”

“I think we can still do something,” said Mike Dittmar, committee member. “Connectivity and marketing is still something we can do to capitalize on that.”

“I know there are areas in this county that have very good connectivity,” said McIntyre. “I think we can capitalize on it and I think that has to deal with marketing so we can position ourselves to be appealing to people who want to get out of the city. I don’t know about you, but I feel very comfortable where I am living right now with the pandemic. I am glad I am not in a hotspot. I know there are people like me who want to move to small America. I think there is an opportunity for us to market this area, but we need to have the infrastructure in place to allow them to move here.”

 

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Items for development

The committee identified seven areas that they would like to focus on to improve business development and attraction in Jo Daviess County. They were: regulations and impediments, connectivity, marketing and grants, workforce, building services, transportation and shovel-ready sites. The committee will assign members to each of these areas for economic development improvement.

“If someone contacts me, I want them to be able to reach out to you,” said McIntyre. “These are things we’ve talked about as obstacles to move here and the county might be able to help improve these.”

 

Current situation

“The workforce is in a hurt right now,” said McIntyre.

Emily Legel, executive director of Northwest Illinois Economic Development (NWILED) said her organization has been helping more businesses than ever.

“People need capital...and also expansion capital,” said Legel. “What can we do to help them survive?”

Legel is working to connect people to investors to help find necessary capital.

Legel also discussed issues that hurt businesses during the pandemic.

“Mayor (Mike) Dittmar is doing a great job keeping rent low in Elizabeth,” said Legel. “Rent is too damn high in Galena.”

Reimer also discussed the small business stabilization grant and the number of businesses that the county has helped through the process.

“The idea came from Scott, and Eric Tison ran with it,” said Reimer.

Toot said he intends a fourth round of grants in the fall, even though some county board members were apprehensive for the recent round three of applications. He wants to have the funds and applications available in case a second wave of COVID hits the state.

“This is an amazing program by the county,” said Dittmar. “Please don’t be done with it. We are all scared of a second wave. I urge the county board members to not be done with it. There is plenty of money left. Do not close the books on it yet.”

“The sentiments from this committee are to see it continue,” said McIntyre.

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