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Numbers finally rosy as Elgin Chamber looks back at 2013, changes leaders

In his first speech as board chairman ElgAreChamber Commerce District U46 School Superintendent Jose Torres drew some laughs as he

In his first speech as board chairman of the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce, District U46 School Superintendent Jose Torres drew some laughs as he recalled being introduced to business by a mother he described as a "serial entrepreneur." | Dave Gathman/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 31, 2014 9:39AM

ELGIN — As Jose Torres took the reins of the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce at its annual meeting Wednesday, chamber officials announced a series of statistics from 2013 that suggest the area is pulling out of its Great Recession doldrums.

More than 200 people jammed the Heritage Ballroom at The Centre of Elgin for the meeting, which in the past has consisted of a January dinner but this year was held at lunchtime to make attendance easier for business people who live outside the city.

Torres, the superintendent of School District U46, took over as chairman of the chamber’s board from David Rock, president of IHC Construction Companies.

As succession of chamber members reviewed what happened in 2013, perhaps the most impressive reports came from Ken Franceez, whose Lee and Associates monitors commercial real estate trends, and Chris Huckstedt from Metrostudy, who reported on the 2013 housing market:

Huckstedt said more new houses were started under construction in Elgin — 299 — than in any other city in Illinois, including Chicago. By comparison, Joliet had 63 housing starts, Rockford just five and Waukegan none.

The city added 459,000 square feet of new commercial and industrial buildings, compared with about 360,000 in each of the previous two years, Franceez said. This was kick-started by a 342,000-square-foot “spec” building opened by Conor Commercial and Globe Corp. in Northwest Pointe Industrial Park just last month.

Bridge Development Partners and Wanxiang America Corp. announced plans to build a 225,000-square-foot spec industrial building at 2750 Alft Lane.

DCT Industrial, a national NYSE-traded investment trust, purchased six buildings in the troubled Fox River Business Center at Route 31 and I-90, and announced plans to invest $3 million to update the center.

Toronto-based FER-PAL Construction, which rehabilitates water mains, chose to locate its new headquarters in Elgin, bringing 50 jobs.

Newhaven Display, an electronics company, is building a 30,000-square-foot high-end office and engineering facility facing I-90 near the Northwest Industrial Park. It plans to double the work force at its present Elgin facility.

Leaving the chairmanship, Rock said that before he began working with the chamber, he didn’t fully realize how important it is for businesses to work with government officials and make sure city councils, state legislators and so forth are aware of the needs of their businesses.

Franceez said that personal contact by Elgin Mayor David Kaptain and other officials played a role in getting some of those new industrial projects.

“Companies really do want to hear, “We want you’ — that they won’t be fighting city hall,” he said.

Taking the gavel, Torres said that before going into education, he had dabbled in business himself as a teenager.

“My mom was a serial entrepreneur,” Torres said.

He said his first experience was when that mother sent him door to door selling name tags. That was followed by working in her pest control business, then a debt collection business.

“I wanted to get rich quick,” Torres said, so he got into a multilevel-marketing scheme to sell water filters. But when he lost more money in that than he earned, he decided to go into education.

“And now I’m leading the biggest school district in Illinois outside Chicago. So not bad, huh?” Torres told the amused crowd.

Torres said the chamber’s two goals in 2014 will be to strengthen the chamber and to “enhance the effectiveness of our Elgin Development Group to recruit world-class companies to base their businesses in Elgin, bring jobs to Elgin and bring prosperity to our residents.”

But as befits an educator, Torres made it clear that another theme during his term will be that “we need to develop the next work force.”

“We need to align all the resources in our community to support schools, from cradle to grave, preschool through post-secondary,” he said.

He then played an excerpt from the “PBS News Hour” program that aired nationwide Jan. 22. Going into Elgin High School, Fabric Images Inc., and South Elgin’s Hoffer Plastics, it showed how students applying for a job after high school can earn a “National Careers Readiness Certificate” by taking a test called WorkKeys that measures whether they have the skills in basic math, instruction following, blueprint reading, etc. needed to do a modern factory or clerking job.

“More than 6,20 students (in District U46) have received certification and many have used it to get a good-paying job right out of high school,” Torres said.

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