Evanston’s fourth quarter economic report reveals stability, diversity

Elena Sucharetza, Assistant City Editor

Evanston’s economic report from the final three months of 2015 was released Tuesday, showing overall economic stability, city officials said.

Thirteen new businesses opened in the city and 60 jobs were generated during the economic quarter, which stretched last year from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31. Seven of these businesses are located in downtown Evanston, according to the report.

Johanna Nyden Leonard, manager of the city’s economic development division, said the continual emergence of new businesses and entrepreneurship is impressive considering Evanston’s size of about 76,000 residents.

“Evanston doesn’t have a large shopping mall such as Old Orchard so it’s important to offer a diversity of things to people in Evanston, such as the startup showcase we had this quarter,” Nyden Leonard said. “We do all these things that aren’t typical for a suburb our size but we have a dynamic composition in our city.”

Businesses such as Coffee Lab, which moved from 922 Noyes St. to 910 Noyes St. in October, were considered to be new businesses in the report due to their relocation to larger spaces.

Despite the creation of 60 new jobs in the final economic quarter, Nyden-Leonard said Evanston’s unemployment rate has risen by about 0.5 percent to remain under 4.5 percent, as compared to the national rate, which is about 4.9 percent. She said residents should not expect to see any drastic rises in unemployment in the near future due to steady economic growth in the city.

Beyond business creation, Nyden Leonard said the most noteworthy aspect of the report was its information regarding the number of vacant industrial spaces in Evanston. She said there was a sharp drop in industrial vacancies from eight to one between the third quarter and fourth quarter, which was largely due to the opening of a sizeable Autobarn car facility, which took up 128,000 square feet of previously vacant space. Retail and office space vacancies also declined during the quarter, but at a much smaller rate.

Nyden Leonard said she was impressed with the city’s decrease in vacancies compared to numbers from other north suburbs.

“We had about an 8 or 9 percent vacancy rate for industrial space in previous quarters, and that dropped significantly,” she said. “This shows that a big facility occupying space can have a pretty big impact and we should feel pretty good that our industrial vacancy rate is lower than comparable areas.”

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said he was pleased with Evanston’s entrepreneurship participation as compared with other suburban areas as well. He cited Sunshine Enterprises’ business academy program, which discusses subjects such as small business owners in minority communities, as a good example of the diversity in economic initiatives in the city.

“Initiatives such as (Sunshine’s) have a nice impact on small businesses and start-ups in Evanston,” he said. “That is something we are definitely trying to focus on, helping people get off the ground at the grassroots level.”

Evanston’s economic growth is not likely to be severely impacted by the eventual solution to Illinois’ state budget stalemate, though it is difficult to gauge the exact impact the crisis has on the local economy, Nyden Leonard said. The state has been operating without a budget for eight months, threatening cuts in social services and other city services across Illinois.

Nyden Leonard said Evanston’s relatively small size reduces the impact of financial disturbances that are visible on regional levels.

Wilson said Evanston’s unique reputation for being economically progressive sets it apart from other suburban areas and creates optimism in entrepreneurs.

“We create a positive work environment and we are not focused on one model or format for businesses,” Wilson said. “We are open minded and willing to listen to anything anyone brings to the table.”

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