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Southland mayors successfully navigate through the pandemic

Top, L-R: Robbins Mayor Tyrone Ward, and Park Forest Mayor Jonathan Vanderbilt; Bottom: L-R: Glenwood Mayor Ronald Gardiner, and Orland Hills Mayor Kyle Hastings

An Oct. 20 Chicago Southland Mayors Panel Legislative Series Webinar featured panelists SSMMA President / Robbins Mayor Tyrone Ward, Park Forest Mayor Jonathan Vanderbilt and Orland Hills Mayor Kyle Hastings, as well as Glenwood Mayor Ronald Gardiner, who served as moderator. The event was hosted by the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce.

The mayors discussed how they are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and provided insight on new development in their communities.

Mayor Ward stated that the pandemic has hit all of us in a negative manner. In the beginning, it was a new experience to close everything and lose money. “But the most important thing to us was not to lose lives,” he said.

“On behalf of the SSMMA and its 45 or so members, we have all been communicating and the administration has been helping out tremendously,” Mayor Ward added, highlighting the creation of SSMMA’s new COVID-19 Dashboard. It provides demographic information that allows each town to concentrate on areas of concern, such as the age, race and gender of those most impacted by the coronavirus.

“We’re really lucky in Park Forest, in terms of COVID-19,” said Mayor Vanderbilt. “Our residents have been at the forefront of volunteerism.” In addition, Park Forest personal care product manufacturer Essations, Inc., saw the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) and pivoted to manufacturing hand sanitizer. When they discovered a shortage of a key ingredient, ethanol, Sen. Patrick Joyce contacted a farmer who supplied it.

In terms of business development, Mayor Vanderbilt says that since March 2020, they have opened a long list of businesses including Elegance and Windland, Inc., which got the help of Cook County Class 8 incentives. “The Village of Park Forest is creating and has been a small business incubator, and during this pandemic, it shows that we are a place for small businesses to grow their companies,” he said.

“The biggest thing that we wanted to do was to educate the residents and let people know that this is a real virus and it’s not a hoax,” added Mayor Hastings. Economically, while sales taxes revenue dropped in many towns due to closures, Orland Hills was ahead. He believes that’s because he followed wise advice early in his role as mayor: Bring in or maintain revenue generators that are recession-proof.

So, he brought in or maintained stores like Walmart, Aldi, PetSmart, and hardware stores, and during the pandemic, they exceeded sales revenue expectations.

Mayor Gardner provided a snapshot of Glenwood’s economic activity, citing several projects underway, including Delta Sonic expansion, a new Nicor facility, and a unique brew pub eatery coming to Halsted and 183rd Street. In addition, he noted the village owns Glenwoodie Golf Club, and golf has come back with a vengeance, adding “It’s a beautiful facility so come on out and golf!”

The mayors agreed that despite COVID-19, good things are still happening in the Southland and they are learning from others on how to navigate. Watch the webinar video for more (passcode is Chamber1!) and attend upcoming Chamber mayors’ panels to learn more about economic activity in the Southland.

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