University Park, IL,
12:51 PM

President Maimon Named to Southland Development Authority Founding Board

Where others might be satisfied with the status quo, Governors State University President Dr. Elaine P. Maimon wants to see change – transformation, in fact.

When she arrived at Governors State in 2007, Maimon immediately went to work building partnerships with community colleges across the region to create a pipeline for bachelor degrees.

Then, she carved out a four-year, full-service university where an upper division institution had stood for nearly five decades.

Now, Maimon is expanding her vision to the region’s economic base, where she and others see a wealth of opportunity to draw investors and drive growth.

“In order for Chicagoland to be at its best, this area has to fulfill its economic promise,” said Maimon, one of 16 founding board members of the newly launched Southland Development Authority (SDA).

The SDA, led by the South Suburban Economic Growth Initiative (SSEGI), is making a promise of its own – to unite the 40-plus municipalities in the South Suburbs into one robust engine that attracts industry through public-private partnerships, and for profit and not-for-profit collaborations.

Commissioned by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, SSEGI brought together a team of public private interests to study Chicago’s South Suburbs.

In 2017, the group produced a 126-page report that looked at economic activities, the workforce, community characteristics, and institutional capacity in the region.

“To reestablish the South Suburbs as an economic powerhouse,’’ was its expressed overarching goal, and establishing the SDA was the first step to achieving it.

Like SSEGI, the SDA is a public-private partnership that will act as a central agency, partnering with organizations such as the South Suburban Land Bank and South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, to attract large scale investors and to streamline the processes.

The concept of one central agency that is empowered to work across governments and alongside investors was critical in developing the SDA, said Hazel Crest Mayor Vernard Alsberry Jr., a member of the planning team and SDA board member.

“In the South Suburbs, there are all different kinds of communities with various structures and resources. It’s so fragmented and that makes it hard to do business as a region.”

Harnessing the assets of the Southland, the SDA reflects the interests of the community, government, industry, and advocates.

Representing education on the planning team were Governors State University and Prairie State College.

Maimon, who was later named to the SDA board, said Governors State is uniquely positioned to help advance the Authority’s mission as it advances its own.

The recently announced Supply Chain Innovation Center and Business Incubator (SCICBI) at Governors State is the state’s only supply chain hub. As such, it will allow the university to apply knowledge and research to the state’s most pressing problems and to stimulate growth, Maimon said.

“We are an economic engine and a hub for innovation, as well as an important element for what makes the South Suburbs a lively place for businesses to locate.”

In preparing for the SDA launch, the SSEGI planning team took a trip to the East Coast to see how the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development had converted a former navy ship yard to a mixed use campus.

In her beloved hometown of Philadelphia, Maimon marveled at the area, once an industrial Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, now a sprawling complex where 20 companies employ 10,000 workers. Clothing manufacturer Urban Outfitters even moved its headquarters to the historical site.

What she found made Maimon think about what was possible in Chicago’s South Suburbs, which she has called home for more than a decade.

She compared the Southland’s various agencies and municipalities to broken pieces that collectively form a barrier to progress.

“I just like the idea of bringing all the fragments together. The university plays an important role – as maybe the only entity that brings all the fragments together. But it needs more. I am so hopeful that the SDA can be transformational.”