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By Sharon Clark
From the July/August 2013 issue
The local economic outlook for Wheeling, IL appears increasingly positive over the past few quarters as reports of operations and employment expansion by existing Wheeling manufacturers continues to stream in. A review of the available space inventory reveals that Wheeling’s industrial parks continue to experience strong demand from both existing and new businesses. These are promising signs for prospective business residents, especially in the industrial sector.
Earlier this year, an existing Wheeling business—which provides sales and service for a wide variety of industrial controls and equipment used in manufacturing and other industrial applications—closed on the purchase of a formerly vacant 72,000-square-foot building in Wheeling, to accommodate business growth. The owners plan to invest an estimated $1 million on building improvements prior to taking occupancy. The expansion is expected to create approximately 50 new permanent employment positions over the next two years.
Another longtime Wheeling business—a polyethylene extruder, converter and printer that manufactures a variety of industrial and commercial plastic products—has expanded into a nearby 105,000 sq. ft. facility. The business owners plan to invest an estimated $5,000,000 on facility improvements prior to taking occupancy. The majority of the property improvement costs are designated for building renovations, electrical service upgrades for both properties, and rehabilitation of the rail service to both buildings. This company currently employs 230 workers at their existing facility, and they plan to hire 40 new permanent employees over the next two years.
Economic Development staff has also received new industrial construction inquiries in recent months, which has not been commonly sighted in this area over the past several years. In addition, Wheeling is becoming increasingly recognized for its ongoing collaboration between local government, area educational institutions, workforce development partners, industrial brokers, and manufacturers in the area. These efforts are aimed at supporting industrial occupancy, workforce sustainability, and general growth and retention rates. The community has enjoyed a steady increase in occupancy levels within its inventory of 14,500,000 sq. ft. of industrial space. At 5.4 percent, Wheeling’s industrial space availability rate is among the lowest in the region.
The community’s manufacturing base is anchored around the Village’s general aviation airport, Chicago Executive Airport. The third busiest airport in Chicagoland after O’Hare International and Midway, approximately 250 aircraft are based on the field, with 80,000 take-offs and landings annually.
Chicago Executive Airport has seen significant improvements recently, many of which are ongoing. For instance, in 2012 the airport completed a 780-foot extension of Taxiway Echo, and Atlantic Aviation built a new hangar to service the needs of a new client that recognizes the potential of Chicago Executive Airport. That new hangar includes 26,000 square feet of hangar area and 7,800 square feet of office space.
Atlantic Aviation also renewed its commitment to the airport with a $750,000 remodel of its terminal. The renovation has improved traffic flow and included expansions such as a second cafeteria, larger restrooms, and a more spacious pilot’s lounge. The latest technology is incorporated, with large-screen television monitors and wireless Internet access for personal and professional use. The monitors are connected to Apple TV, providing games, movies, television programs and business presentation capabilities.
Construction has begun on another new hangar to accommodate a third fixed-base operator (FBO) coming to Chicago Executive. The new hangar, Hangar 18, is an 18,000 square feet facility which will include 15,000 square feet of hangar space along with a 3,000 square feet office complex on the north side of Tower Road. Signature Flight Support is building the hangar for Tin Goose Garage, a flight support company previously based at DuPage Airport. The new FBO plans to construct an $8-million facility in the southeast area of the airport that will include 30,000 square feet of hangar and a 10,000-square-foot terminal.
The Village Board has identified the area to the north of the airport as a major focus of business recruitment and development, and in July 2012 Wheeling retained a land planning consultant to evaluate alternate development scenarios over the eastern portion of the airport district to outline aviation and commercial development options. Once complete, the new comprehensive plan will serve as a concise guide for the future growth of the airport district, and the Village is actively recruiting aviation developers to assist in implementing new redevelopment projects.
Chicago Executive Airport links Wheeling to the world, with international visitors from India to Canada to South America regularly traveling through the airport. Chicago Executive Airport serves as a hub for business and industry, and as a logical magnet drawing businesses to the area. An overlapping Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district offers a strategic financing mechanism for pending/proposed developments in and around the airport.