CALUMET CITY | A Beecher native who has worked most recently to promote economic development in Countryside will take on a similar position for Calumet City municipal government.
The City Council on Thursday voted 6-0, with 3rd Ward Alderman Thaddeus Jones absent, to approve hiring Bryan Swanson as economic development coordinator beginning Jan. 20. His appointment will be for a one-year contract running through April 30, 2015.
Swanson was one of about 50 people who applied for the position that has been vacant since July 2013, when James Gigliotti was reassigned from a dual economic development/housing role to being a full-time city housing director.
Council members last month approved a salary of $85,000 for the economic development officials. Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush said Swanson will not have to comply with any residency requirement to take the job.
Swanson, 33, said he will be commuting from Beecher, where he is caring for his mother.
Swanson, a graduate of Valparaiso University who did graduate studies at Western Michigan University, had worked for city government in Countryside since 2006. He began as an intern there, was promoted to the Planning Department and became the city’s economic development director in May.
He had been commuting from Beecher to Countryside, and said a shorter commute to Calumet City was one factor that made him want the job. He also said he has relatives who live in Lansing and is familiar with the area.
“People from all over come to Calumet City because of the mall,” he said.
Swanson said he thinks Calumet City has strengths in terms of easy access and also potential for strong retail districts along Torrence Avenue and Sibley Boulevard. He’d like to focus his attention on trying to draw more businesses there.
He thinks the River Oaks Shopping Center is strong because it offers Macy’s and J.C. Penney, and he wants to help the mall recover from the losses in recent years of Carson’s and Sears stores.
“You cannot focus all your attention on one property,” Swanson said. “It’s just as important to get ‘mom and pop’ businesses to come, and stay, in Calumet City.”
He also said he’d like to attract sit-down restaurants that are not fast-food franchises.
City officials last year hired a consultant to help them conduct a national search for an economic development coordinator to bolster Calumet City’s business climate.
“He’s got his work cut out for him,” Qualkinbush said of Swanson, who said one possible idea might be what Countryside has done in recent years to deal with the loss of automobile dealerships. The city wound up purchasing the properties and seeking out developers who could put them to other business uses.
Swanson has another idea for filling the gap at River Oaks caused by the Sears departure — converting it into a sports complex where youth soccer programs from across the south suburbs and Northwest Indiana could stage their matches.
“That doesn’t create sales tax, but it puts the building back into use,” Swanson said.
“That’s the kind of out-of-the-box thinking we need to have," Qualkinbush said.