You can’t manufacture land. That is a given fact whenever a community has to deal with the reality of what to do with the limited amount of land it has. Over the past 30 years, I have watched while the manufacturing corridors in Chicago have been allowed to go from manufacturing to commercial and even to residential.
That is one of the reasons I am so passionate about fighting against any effort to turn the old Brach Candy site into anything other than a location that will generate an economic future for the Austin community.
I know there are individuals and groups who are calling for that site to become a new high school. They seem oblivious to the Metra train tracks running at ground level directly behind the property. They are also blind to the City of Chicago’s garbage processing facility which sits kitty corner to the back of the property as well. And they are ignoring the other manufacturing businesses located directly behind the Brach site.
Those individuals who are now screaming the loudest were invisible when others were fighting to try and save Austin High School or when Michelle Clark was turned from a middle school into a high school. Nor do they even mention the brand new North Grand High School on the 1700 block of North Kostner. Their agenda is their agenda, and it has less to do with what is best for this community (some of them don’t even live in Chicago) and more to do with creating their legacy.
They have set their sights on the Brach Candy site with no regards for the manufacturing future of that location and the jobs that can come with it.
Manufacturing is dead in the USA, you say? Well let me tell you about a small town-Danville, Va. Once home to the huge Dan River textile mills, the 15,000 jobs that were there, left. As the town struggled with economic challenges, the elected officials didn’t give up. Instead, they took advantage of the same economic forces that caused many of those businesses to leave. Currently, our weakened U.S. dollar makes manufacturing in many European countries too expensive. That, along with the current rise in the cost of fuels, has many foreign companies looking to establish manufacturing sites in the U.S.
Now admittedly, the jobs that have come back to Danville are not equal to the number that left. But the jobs that came back are paying well and giving hard-working Americans a chance to earn a living. One of Danville’s biggest coups was to snare an Ikea. Not the store, mind you, but a plant that would manufacture two of Ikea’s top-selling products-the Expedit bookshelves and Lack coffee tables. Other manufacturing companies have invested in Danville as well. They were soon followed by large retail big box stores like Home Depot, Sam’s Club, Petsmart and Target.
The Brach site has the ability to be an anchor for our community. We need visionary leadership regarding that site and not reactionary decisions. We need leadership that understands, in tough economic times, that you do not put additional expenses on the back of taxpayers without first producing a revenue stream.
We need jobs for Austin and since we cannot manufacture land, we do not need to give up manufacturing land for a school, especially in light of the fact that less than two blocks away on Cicero, there are several acres of land that have been sitting vacant for decades.