Lake County, Illinois, is a picturesque region along the shores of Lake Michigan. It is one of the largest counties in the Chicago metropolitan area, with over 714,000 residents as of the 2020 US Census. Proximity to downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport, combined with distinctive communities and easy access to Lake Michigan, make the region a natural destination for individuals and companies. However, these advantages were not translating to shared prosperity. Lake County struggled to attract a younger demographic, and some communities were under-resourced. This made clear the necessity of an inclusive approach to economic development that addressed the needs of all residents and jurisdictions.
In the spring of 2021, Lake County Partners engaged TIP Strategies to create a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) that would guide broad economic growth in the post-COVID landscape. The project began with background research and data analysis that informed an examination of Lake County’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). The TIP team also met with dozens of public and private sector leaders during focus group and interview sessions to understand the county’s economic development opportunities and challenges. This insight, combined with findings from the quantitative analysis and TIP’s expertise, led to the development of goals, strategies, and action items that framed the CEDS. Three goals were identified for the region to act on. The first goal, Competitive Positioning, centered on steps for elevating Lake County to compete globally. The second goal, Transformational Development, focused on the built environment, from site development to infrastructure. The third goal, Community Engagement, recognized the role that quality of place plays in economic development for residents and visitors. The resulting strategic action plan made collaboration, sustainability, and equity foundational to achieving these goals, positioning the region for economic growth during the next five years and beyond.