Ideal for residents and businesses alike, the City of Wood Dale prides itself as a prime location that offers small-town charm while also looking toward a bright future.
Wood Dale’s central location has been a key to the village’s growth since it was founded. From the 1833 Dunklee’s Grove settlement along wagon trail roads to the arrival of the Chicago and Pacific Railroad and eventual incorporation first as a village and then a city, the city’s history has been tracked by its location and efforts to build a transportation system.
Located in the center of the nation’s busiest transportation hub, the west suburban community is strategically situated on the western edge of O’Hare International Airport, 23 miles west of downtown Chicago. The city also offers easy access to many major expressways and to Metra Rail service with direct connections to Chicago and Elgin.
“We’re a small community with small-town charm and regional access to anything that you’re interested in doing,” said Kelley Chrisse, the city’s assistant community development director. “From an economic development standpoint, residents and businesses can be part of a smaller community while also having greater reach.”
Giving the region greater access
Helping the region meet future transportation needs, the Elgin O’Hare Western Access Project is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year up to Route 83. This project, which began construction in 2013, will provide access from the west side of O’Hare International Airport via York Road and accommodate nearly three times as many vehicles per day as local roads currently carry. The project began with the addition of nearly 50 expressway lane miles through the conversion of Thorndale Avenue into a limited-access four-lane highway, creating an extension of the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway.
The project includes a new all-electronic toll road around the western border of O’Hare International Airport, linking the Jane Adams Memorial Tollway (I-90) and the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), the extension of the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway, now known as Illinois Route 390, east along Thorndale Avenue to O’Hare International Airport, and rehabilitation and widening of existing Illinois Route 390.
Seeing the potential the extension can provide to industries, Chrisse said, the city is making modifications to the land surrounding the extension to capitalize on the new access. In 2015, the city established a TIF district and also has been working on public improvements to promote redevelopment.
“The plan itself is transformative, and that is where the city has focused, where we can help spur development in the area by making public improvements in advance of the developer coming in,” she said.
An industrial boom
Crediting the online ordering phenomena, the warehousing and distribution industry is taking off in Wood Dale. Chrisse said three industrial properties are being redeveloped from office use to use as warehouse and distribution facilities. Among the businesses already here and expanding, Amazon Fresh brought its first Chicagoland location to Wood Dale.
The city also is focusing on addressing workforce development issues, specifically the lack of workers in the manufacturing field. Chrisse said the city is working with manufacturing companies as well as reaching out to the College of DuPage and area high schools to explain the manufacturing trades and skills necessary.
“We really value our manufacturers, so we’re also trying to work with them and reach out in their networks to try and bring other manufacturers, so we can co-locate these similar businesses where they can share parts and sell to each other and create that network of supporting businesses,” she added.
Focusing on existing infrastructure
Wood Dale also continues to focus on maintaining and improving its existing infrastructure, planning street resurfacing, sidewalk replacement and stormwater drainage improvements.
“All of these things are things we look at on a regular basis and budget accordingly to make sure our infrastructure meets the needs not only of our existing businesses and residents but also prospective businesses and residents,” she said.
The city has planned various beautification projects, such as adding decorative pedestrian lighting along Wood Dale Road and constructing a clock tower and landscaping improvements at the newly improved intersection of Wood Dale and Irving Park Road. The city also has begun replacing all entrance signs and street sign poles and street name signs to create a consistent branding.
“It’s more than just an image. It’s really more about what the community promises to deliver to its residents and businesses. That consistent branding is a reminder of that promise,” Chrisse said.
Reaching out to the community
But Wood Dale never stops looking at ways to improve. Over the past year, the city has reached out to the community, both from residents and businesses to seek input and update its comprehensive plan.
Chrisse said it’s been important that the community be actively engaged in this process, and the city is encouraged by the level of engagement.
“That will result in a more realistic plan. By having the community involvement and support, it will be easier to implement the plan,” she said.
Comments that many residents have shared is they would like to see more commercial establishments. In order to support these commercial establishments, Chrisse said Wood Dale will need to boost its population, particularly by looking into developing multi-family residential units.
“There has been increased interest in developing vacant single-family lots as well as interest from developers to develop multi-family units, such as townhomes,” she said.
Supporting the Business Community
Wood Dale prides itself on valuing its business community, which is not only made up of international companies that make the city their home, but also a diverse population bringing family-owned businesses to the community.
“We have a lot of locally owned ethnic restaurants. We have a number of Polish restaurants. We have a number of Italian restaurants, and these are family-owned home-cooking type restaurants that give that nod to a small-town and a feeling of community and feeling of connectedness,” she said.
Chrisse said the city understands the success of our community is also dependent upon the success of individual businesses. So as much as possible, we try to partner with our business community.
In an effort to promote shopping local, the city created a gift-giving guide, giving businesses the opportunity to promote their services and products for free. Mailed to residents and businesses and distributed across the community, the guide also is available online. The response has been positive from residents, who may not have known the business existed or the unique items and services a business offered.
“We have a manufacturer of industrial popcorn machines, but they also make smaller versions that they sell to the public. Most people didn’t know that was an option. It gives businesses additional opportunities for exposure in the community,” she said.
Chrisse added the city also has created a free online business directory, offering photos as well as promoting the products and services they offer.
“We’re trying to encourage people to stay and spend their money locally. It’s an important part of supporting the community,” she said.