The Benefits of Tourism

Attending the Visit Lake County annual meeting on September 6th: Village Clerk Amy Gayton (L), State Representative Nick Sauer (Center), and Historical Society President Angie Underwood (R).

Attending the Visit Lake County annual meeting on September 6th: Village Clerk Amy Gayton (L), State Representative Nick Sauer (Center), and Historical Society President Angie Underwood (R).

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

Those of us who are lucky enough to get away from time to time on vacation realize how much it does to improve our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It helps our productivity when back on the job if we can carve out even a few days of relaxation from the daily grind of work responsibilities. It’s amazing what a simple change of scenery can do!

An additional benefit of taking some time off is the financial boost that tourism can provide for our local economies. In 2016, the economic impact of tourism here in Lake County was a staggering $1.29 billion in visitor spending, which ranks third in the state of Illinois behind Cook and DuPage counties. Our county does have the good fortune of being the home of Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, which is a huge draw. Additionally, Lake County offers a variety of other smaller attractions such as charming downtown Long Grove to tempt visitors to come experience our shops, restaurants and beautiful open spaces. County-wide, over 10,750 jobs are due to tourism and $29.6 million in local tax receipts are generated annually. Clearly, tourism plays an important role locally in job creation, business growth and economic development.

This week three board members of the Historical Society represented Long Grove at the Visit Lake County annual meeting held at the Lake County Fairgrounds. Going with a county fair “blue ribbon” year for tourism theme, we gathered with other chamber of commerce representatives, business leaders, restaurant owners, hotel and entertainment industry leaders, community partners and elected officials to celebrate our local success. Visit Lake County is our official marketing organization and champion of tourism in Lake County. Using promotions, advertising, video and social media, they keep the public informed of all the great reasons to come for a visit. Some of the events sponsored include Lake County Restaurant Week in March featuring 50 participating establishments, and the Lake County Libation Trail highlighting locally-made spirits, wines and brews. Our keynote speaker for the annual meeting was Cory Jobe, Director of the Illinois Office of Tourism. One of the topics that Cory touched on is the Project: Time Off initiative. Studies have shown that in the fast paced world we now live in, workers are not taking all of their allowed vacation days, resulting in days of rest and leisure and local economic impact being “left on the table.” We should all make use of the time we are given, to improve our lives, our health, and our communities.

Twenty five years ago tourism was a big business in Long Grove, with tour buses arriving weekly full of visitors ready to enjoy a day of small town ambiance and boutique shopping. We still welcome shoppers from all over the country and overseas at our downtown Visitors’ Center, but the tour buses have certainly slowed as the number of “Mom & Pop” stores have dwindled over the years. Long Grove continues to offer plenty of charm with our vintage buildings and iconic covered bridge, but today it is the history that also creates the draw. Our Long Grove Historical Society has a great working relationship with Visit Lake County staff, and we have been pleased to partner with them as a destination in group tours they are featuring of the area. As a historical society our mission is to preserve, celebrate, and share our local history, and if we can help the community with tourism benefits in doing so, all the better.

League of Extraordinary Mayors

Celebrating at the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Gala on January 27, 2017 with Joe Mancino, Mayor of Hawthorn Woods on my left, and Mandi Florip, Executive Director of the Lake County Municipal League.

Celebrating at the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Gala on January 27, 2017 with Joe Mancino, Mayor of Hawthorn Woods (on the left), and Mandi Florip, Executive Director of the Lake County Municipal League (on the right).

Serving as Village President has presented me with many opportunities, one of the best of which has been the chance to work alongside and get to know my counterparts in Lake County. I consider it a real privilege to have collaborated with and learned from some truly dedicated public servants, several of which I now consider friends. Cultivating and maintaining relationships of trust and mutual respect between our neighboring communities is a key role that I have made one of my priorities these last four years. It takes an investment of time, but one that can reap benefits for the Village both now, and into the future.

Long Grove is a member of several inter-governmental groups, most notably the Illinois Municipal League, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, and Lake County Municipal League. I also have opportunities each month to represent Long Grove and interact with my fellow Mayors at County-wide meetings, events, summits, task forces, and open houses. We even have an informal “mayors lunch bunch” that convenes from time to time when the need for mutual support arises.

As we enter into the last month of election season leading up to the April 4th voting day, I want to send my best wishes to all my mayoral colleagues running again for another term. I am grateful for the experience of having served alongside some of the best citizens I will ever come to know.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

Coming home from our workout today in the city, Waze navigation unexpectedly took us past Wrigley Field, where I snapped this shot of the crowds still rejoicing in the recent Cubs win!

Coming home from our workout today in the city, Waze navigation unexpectedly took us past Wrigley Field, where I snapped this shot of the crowds still rejoicing in the recent Cubs win!

Life in Long Grove has been happily dominated by a historic event this week–the clinching of the World Series by the Chicago Cubs! The collective joy this victory has spread among residents has made the past several days especially memorable. And while I know that not everyone in the Village is a Cubs fan, I do know that a significant number of Long Grovians were part of the estimated 5 million cheering fans lining the streets of Chicago yesterday for the victory parade. I had several appointments to keep so I chose to stick around town, but I did enjoy the uncharacteristic lack of traffic on the local roads as a result!

Where were you when you watched the Cubs break the 108 year “curse”? We were at the Village Tavern, at least for most of the game. The Chatterbox was another local gathering spot for cheering and knuckle-biting. However, most residents that I’ve talked to were glued to TVs at home, celebrating with family and friends and even in a few cases, post-game fireworks. This past week has certainly been one for the record books and a shared memory for all of us in Chicagoland. Cheers to letting happiness and joy dominate our lives, for a few days at least!

Camp CEO: Mentoring with a side of S’mores

Happy Campers: Arriving at Camp CEO and being greeted by my mentee, Trinity.

Happy Campers: Arriving at Camp CEO and being greeted by my mentee, Trinity.

Last week I participated in what will surely be remembered as one of the highlights of my summer–camping with the Girl Scouts! In it’s tenth year, Camp CEO is a premier leadership camp for teen girls and high-level professionals held at Camp Butternut Springs in Valparaiso, Indiana. I was invited to attend as one of the 25 female “CEOs” along with 40 high-achieving Girl Scouts selected from the Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Council who applied and wrote essays to participate. I had not been camping since my days as a leader with my daughter’s troop 20 years ago, and it was incredible fun to be hiking, swimming, and singing songs around the campfire once again.

In addition to these traditional camp activities, what made Camp CEO so special was the opportunity to mentor the girls one-on-one and share stories, life experiences, advice and inspiration. I was fortunate to be paired with Trinity, an impressively smart and sweet girl from Chicago who aspires to be a doctor. I really enjoyed spending time with my mentee as well as all the girls at camp and I was continually amazed by the thoughtful questions the girls asked. They were truly focused on learning and absorbing as much as possible from their time with the adult mentors. Women were present from a wide variety of professions such as science, technology, law, government, finance, communications, entrepreneurs, and more. I was asked to lead a workshop on networking and social etiquette in politics, which challenged me to step out of my box a bit to design a seminar. But I had a ball doing it, and the girls really seemed to enjoy discussing the role of women in elected office particularly in light of the history being made this year in our U. S. Presidential race.

One activity that seemed to really resonate with adults and girls alike was the “Dreaming Your Future” tradition. A couple of times each day, everyone would gather around the fireplace or campfire, and listen as three or four of the CEOs took center stage and shared their own life story and pathway to leadership. As usual, the girls had intriguing questions to ask. I found it so interesting that every woman’s story showcased the fact that most of us are not doing what we thought our careers would be when we were in high school or college–in most cases our journey has taken twists and turns to lead us to a place we never dreamed possible. I know that I never planned on becoming a Village President when I was majoring in Foods-Nutrition/Dietetics during my college days!

As luck would have it, the day I chose to arrive at camp, August 10th,  just happened to be National S’mores Day–score!! Who knew it was a thing? But I cannot imagine a better place on earth to be on National S’mores Day than at Girl Scout Camp! We celebrated with a fabulous bonfire, singalong, marshmallows toasted on sticks, and a few mosquitoes to complete the woodsy atmosphere.  I discovered a new taste sensation–using a peanut butter cup sandwiched between the graham crackers and marshmallow, in place of the traditional plain chocolate bar. I am still thinking about how delicious that tasted–maybe the fresh air and female empowerment are enhancing the memory?

Camp CEO was an all-around wonderful experience. I’m grateful that we have organizations such as Girl Scouts to provide opportunities like this, which bond women and girls together to inspire the next generation of leaders. But the inspiration works both ways, because I came home uplifted by Trinity and all the other young women I now know who give me hope for a bright future for us all.

Adding our hopes and wishes to the "Dreaming Your Future" dream-catcher at Camp CEO.

Adding our hopes and wishes to the “Dreaming Your Future” dream-catcher at Camp CEO.

Such a Financial State

(L to R) Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood, Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joe Mancino, and Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger at the July 14th Lake County Municipal League Meeting.

(L to R) Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood, Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joe Mancino, and Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger at the July 14th Lake County Municipal League Meeting.

Last month I attended the quarterly Lake County Municipal League meeting and had the opportunity to hear our State Comptroller, Leslie Munger, speak in her hometown of Lincolnshire. What resonated with me the most is the precarious financial state we find ourselves in at the moment. Let’s just say that the news was not comforting to hear.

Illinois has not had a budget in place for over a year now. In June of 2016 some “stopgap funding” was passed that will be in place until December. Some of the groups receiving this temporary funding are: K-12 schools, Universities & Colleges, nonprofits providing human services, Veterans homes, Lottery winners, 911 call centers, road construction, and local governments. While the stopgap funds are allowing these organizations and projects to continue until the end of the year and through the fall elections, Comptroller Munger described these measures as a “band-aid.” Right now Illinois has a backlog of $8 Billion in unpaid bills, which is estimated to grow to $10 Billion by December. Currently our state has accrued $116 Billion in unfunded pension obligations. Sobering statistics, indeed.

Long term, Illinois needs a plan. Comptroller Munger feels that just raising taxes is not a solution, as we already are burdened with high property taxes, particularly in Lake County. Some of the ideas she put forward to improve the situation include:

  • Reducing Costs–through consolidation, and also being more efficient in our state government
  • Raising Revenues–by growing our economy and expanding our tax base
  • Lowering the Cost of Doing Business in Illinois–including eliminating burdensome unfunded mandates
  • Holding the Line on Property Taxes–very little increase
  • Constitutional Pension Reform–must be achieved to curb the rapidly escalating financial obligations

So with all of this doom and gloom, how do we all remain hopeful that things can and will change? Leslie left us on a positive note with her view that the financial challenges of Illinois can be overcome with state legislators who are willing to work together to reach a consensus and compromise. Illinois is blessed with many assets such as:  transportation, a skilled work force, high quality education, abundant water, rich farmland, and a strong IT and advanced industry.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that the November elections will spark some positive change, one that will result in a workable plan to get our state back on track financially. It is possible. And it is up to all of us to let those in Springfield know that we expect nothing less. Hearing Comptroller Munger speak motivated me to call and email my state senator with my thoughts and concerns, and ask what I can do to help. You can do the same. Like it or not, we are all in this together!

Birthday Wishes For Some Leading Ladies

Some of the women attending the recent WINGS celebration: (seated L to R) Cheri Neal, Zion Township Supervisor and current WINGS President, and

Some of the women attending the recent WINGS 30th Birthday celebration: (seated L to R) Cheri Neal, Zion Township Supervisor and current WINGS President, and Evelyn Alexander, Founding Member. (Back row L to R) Cynthia Alexander, Mara Grujanac, Village of Lincolnshire Trustee, Nancy Rotering, City of Highland Park Mayor, Alyssa Knobel, Highland Park Trustee, and Angie Underwood, Village of Long Grove Village President.

This past week marked a milestone in history as Hillary Clinton became the first woman to secure major party support to be placed on the November ballot for President of the United States. Being raised in nearby Park Ridge, Hillary has her roots in Illinois and we do seem to have a heritage of strong women leaders here in our neck of the woods. Today I want to celebrate the birthdays of just a couple of examples.

Having a chat with Barbara Turner

Having a chat with Barbara Turner in December of 2014

All of us in Long Grove are delighted to send our best wishes to Barbara Turner today, June 13, 2016, as she celebrates her 97th birthday! Barbara and her family have been instrumental in preserving and sharing some of our high-quality open spaces and natural areas in the Village, as well as advocating for conservation efforts throughout Lake County. Barbara has been a resident of Long Grove since her youth, and has served the community in many capacities over the years. She is well known to a generation of students as the librarian at Kildeer Countryside School, and was one of the founders of the Long Grove Historical Society, serving as curator and co-authoring a book about our local history. These days Barbara is less able to get out in her beloved nature preserve and battle back the invasive species, but we all know if she could be alongside the interns at Reed-Turner pulling garlic mustard today, she would be! Happy Birthday, Barbara.

Another happy milestone was the 30th Birthday Celebration that I recently attended for a group know as WINGS (Women Interested/In Government Service). This Lake County organization was created to encourage women to seek elected office and offer support and education for those women in leadership roles and interested in the political process. This group meets three times a year and offers inspiring speakers and valuable networking, as well as sponsoring an annual college scholarship. The birthday celebration featured a panel discussion with founding members of WINGS discussing their original dream for the organization back in 1986, and their hopes as we move forward. As we saw in the national events of last week, the contributions of women as leaders in America is a story that continues to be told.

A Big Announcement

Meeting up with Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor in January of this year.

Meeting up with Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor in January of this year.

Earlier today a press release was issued by our Lake County Board Chairman, Aaron Lawlor, explaining his current thoughts on the Route 53/120 Extension Project. A key supporter of the project since the Blue Ribbon Advisory Report (BRAC)was adopted in 2012, Chairman Lawlor now believes that due to “dynamics that have changed over the past several months, it has become clear that the financial and political realities have become insurmountable.” A main concern is that “critical environmental and community protections will be cut in an effort to minimize costs.” In addition, he fears that the situation “will only get worse the longer gridlock persists in Springfield. Legislators cannot agree in the short-term on a budget to fund essential services let alone have the long-term vision to enact the legislation necessary to form the environmental stewardship fund, which is a key component of the Route 53/120 project.”

For decades, the proposed path of this road extension has been slated to run through Long Grove. Our community has opposed this project for many years and the Village Board passed a resolution this past October reaffirming this position. Having our County Board Chairman come out today suggesting that “the best thing for Lake County would be to stop the Environmental Impact Statement and refocus our attention on a sustainable vision for the current Route 53/120 corridor and plan for necessary improvements to our County’s current transportation network,” was big news to everyone following this issue.

Chairman Lawlor called me this morning before the news went public and while I was surprised by the announcement, I was not shocked. When I first took office, Aaron and I met for breakfast and I was very frank about my concerns about this project, that I was personally not in support of it and worried about the financial obstacles of building it in a way that would protect our sensitive environmental areas in Long Grove. Chairman Lawlor stated that he was adamant that the Tollway and IDOT adhere to the enhanced environmental standards identified in the BRAC report, and in his mind these were non-negotiable. These recommendations set more aggressive standards for stormwater management, light and noise pollution, water quality, plant and wildlife health, salt spray and other important safeguards. Since that first meeting, these sentiments have been reiterated over and over in our conversations about this project. I believed Chairman Lawlor when he pledged to pull back his support if he felt the Tollway or IDOT was not living up to their commitments. The integrity shown today was not a surprise.

I feel that it shows great strength to thoughtfully reconsider a position on an issue, and make a new decision in light of current information. This is a character trait that I think we all want in our leaders. It takes courage to try and change course once the journey has gotten underway, and endure the criticism that is sure to come. Elected officials are often faced with tough choices. I am grateful that our County is served by those deserving of our sincere trust and respect.

Accepting the Conservation Challenge

Conserve Lake County staff members Greg Rajsky (left) and Sarah Surroz (right) pictured with me at the April 20th Annual Meeting.

Conserve Lake County staff members Greg Rajsky (left) and Sarah Surroz (right) pictured with me at the April 20th Annual Meeting.

Happy Earth Day! As we mark this yearly observance, I would like to share with you the story of a recent challenge that I accepted on behalf of the Long Grove Village Board, our residents, and myself personally.

Conserve Lake County is an organization of committed people who believe that by working together we can protect, preserve and enhance our Lake County land, water, and wildlife in ways that will improve our lives now and in the years to come. This group made up of individuals, families, homeowner associations, companies, corporations, municipalities, and schools recently held their Annual Meeting this past Wednesday evening at Independence Grove Forest Preserve. One of the themes of the night was the challenge, “How will YOU conserve Lake County in 2016?” I was one of four local leaders asked to accept the challenge and speak to the 250 attendees about my organization’s plans.

One of the benefits Conserve Lake County offers is on-site consultations and resources to assist private property owners in environmental stewardship. Advice is given to help residents maintain their properties so that they support clean water, rich soil, and resilient ecosystems. Properties that meet these guidelines can become certified through the Conservation@Home program. Our Village of Long Grove has taken measures over the years to preserve many of our native prairies, wetlands and forests in conservancy easements on private property, as well as in dedicated public open spaces. To encourage our residents to maintain this legacy, the Village Board recently voted to reimburse half the cost to any of our property owners who participate in the Conservation@Home program in 2016. Our community members have long been considered leaders in conservation and the potential for properties to become certified is significant. I believe we are up to the challenge!

I also believe that it makes a more powerful statement if we can lead by example. So to that end, my husband Aaron and I are accepting the challenge to work towards getting our own 9 acres of property in Long Grove certified this year. We made this public commitment not only to help bring attention to a worthy endeavor, but because we feel it is one more way to show our appreciation and respect for the natural beauty of the community that we are fortunate enough to live in.

At the conclusion of the meeting it was lovely to meet several Long Grove residents also attending, who I had not previously known. They thanked me for accepting the challenge on their behalf, and are also working towards getting their own properties certified. When like-minded individuals with a love of nature work together, great things can happen!

For more information on the Conservation@Home program visit ConserveLakeCounty.org

The Art of Communicating

Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood speaking at the BACC Economic Summit on February 10, 2016. Photo credit: Daily Herald

Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood speaking at the BACC Economic Summit on February 10, 2016. Photo credit: Daily Herald

In my previous blog entry I talked about my views as an audience member attending last Saturday’s Legislative Breakfast, listening to a panel of our State elected officials present and answer questions. This week, the roles were reversed as I took a turn at the podium participating in the Economic Summit sponsored by the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce. Mayors and Village Presidents from eight towns were invited to speak about current events in our municipalities, and the state of affairs in our local retail and business districts. I always enjoy these opportunities to interact with my peers and find out what is new and in the works with our neighboring communities.

When speaking publicly for the Village, I take into careful consideration the message that I want to convey and how it will influence the listener’s perception of Long Grove. But I have learned from experience that you cannot control how that message is in turn going to be passed on by others. When I communicate I strive to be positive and genuine and I believe that honesty is the best policy. My recent presentation mentioned the successful changes to our festivals in the past year; the increase in attendance and profits with additions of family activities and bands to attract a young adult demographic. I highlighted the fact that we currently have 54 businesses in our historic downtown, with new additions such as Village Pizza & Ribs, Bell’s Apple Orchard & Bakery, and Finch’s Beer. I kept my remarks focused on projects being undertaken by the Village Board that relate to economic development such as the update of our comprehensive plan and the downtown expansion of our public water system and anticipated connection to Lake Michigan water.

After the individual speeches, the audience submitted questions to the panel. One to be answered by all was our thoughts on the State of Illinois withholding funds to municipalities. I was specifically asked to comment on what the Village of Long Grove is doing to support the extension of IL Rt. 53. The newspaper today chose to write about my responses to the question on new residential housing and the possibility of multi-family housing in Long Grove.

Controversial issues are what we want to hear about, what we want to read about, and then pass judgement on. This dynamic is clearly evident in our local political climate too. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a sign of the times.

Grace under pressure is a skill that improves with practice, and I am grateful for events such as this which allow me to rise to the challenge. Maintaining composure and sounding articulate while answering tough questions is something many of us can benefit from, not just those in the political arena. As I continue to represent Long Grove I will keep singing the praises of this Village that I care so deeply for, regardless of the spin or slant others choose to hear. I aim to perfect the art of communicating my message–encouraging others to experience our unique atmosphere and visit the charming shops, restaurants, and open spaces which make our town a special place to live and raise a family.

Eggs and Issues

State Legislators answer questions at the February 6, 2016 Lake County Municipal League Event.

State Legislators answer questions at the February 6, 2016 Lake County Municipal League Event.

Yesterday I attended the Lake County Municipal League Legislative Breakfast in Round Lake. This annual event was an opportunity to hear directly from our local State Senators and Representatives, who spoke about what is happening (or not) in Springfield. Eleven legislators sat on the panel, and responded to questions on many diverse topics such as:  state funding for our schools, corporate flight out of Illinois, and reasons pro or con on the need to raise our state income taxes. One topic that all could agree on was the urgent necessity of getting a state budget passed, and the desire that they should all be in session until this is accomplished. The need to work together was acknowledged again and again, despite strong opinions on positions expressed individually. Another attendee used the word intransigence (confession–I had to look this up later, it means: refusing to compromise or to abandon an extreme position or attitude) as a descriptor of what was heard. Several legislators asked the municipalities present to pass resolutions demanding that the state pass a budget. If Long Grove demands that they simply do their jobs and find a way to compromise, will that work? If so, I’m willing to try.

The LCML also presented their 2016 Legislative Agenda, which details seven priority issues and four pieces of state legislation on the watch list. Priority issues of particular interest to Long Grove include:

  • Automatic Appropriation for Motor Fuel Tax & Video Gaming Funds
  • Protection of Electronics Recycling Program Funding
  • Protection of our Local Government Distributive Fund Revenues
  • Opposition to Unfunded Mandates
  • Support of Expanding Home Rule Eligibility to Communities in Excess of 5,000 Residents

Please attend our next Village Board meeting on February 9th at 7:00 pm to hear more about this as well as other important issues.