Illinois City Banks on Tech to Attract Millennials

The city of Naperville is hoping technology upgrades will bring young families to the area.

by Suzanne Baker, Erin Hegarty, Naperville Sun / January 4, 2018

(TNS) — Officials in Naperville, Ill., are looking at ways to entice millennials to live and work in the city in 2018, an attempt to build on highly-ranked schools and the city's reputation as one of the best to raise a family.

In the upcoming year, city officials are expected to focus on workforce development by increasing the city's appeal to the younger generation and keeping the city's technology infrastructure up-to-date.

"I think that certainly we're going to continue to focus on economic development, which is always part of running a city that has reached its build out," said Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico. "You have to be creative. All mayors in this situation are working to do our jobs in different ways to keep our city moving forward so revenue doesn't dry up."

One thing that dovetails into that is workforce development, Chirico said.

"Mayors across the country struggle with that," Chirico said. "We have great schools here, so we have a system that's developing a tremendous skill base and talent base, but we don't have a really good model formed for retaining the recent graduates with those current and up-to-date tech skills."

The 23-to-30-year-olds are an important part of the work force, and the city is working to attract and incorporate amenities appealing to the demographic. "Especially the restaurants," Chirico said.

An outdoor, solar-powered Wi-Fi park slated for land adjacent to the municipal center is another feature the city is working on to help its appeal to millennials and recent college graduates.

"It's a very different type of work environment, and we have to make sure that the city has types of places to work that the younger generation likes," Chirico said.

Another way the city plans to stay current is by beefing up its dark fiber network and increasing internet capacity and speed.

"Many years ago, Naperville was forward-thinking and every time we buried an electric line or water service or trench, they ran pipe, sometimes they fed fiber through it, and so there are fibers down there but we never hooked it up," Chirico said. "We did that so as technology starts to advance, we would have that asset ready to go."

And the current dark fiber network is "pretty significant," Chirico said.

The city is expecting a report back from a company contracted to look at the city's network and what it can do moving forward in the first quarter of 2018.

The network should allow for better speed and capacity when it comes to streaming and an "internet of things," like controlling household appliances such as furnaces and air conditioners, refrigerators, and washers and dryers with smart technologies.

"We've got a couple years of pretty big switchover here," Chirico said. "These are services and amenities our residents want."

Building an infrastructure appealing to the younger generation won't happen overnight. "It's going to take time move the needle a bit to make Naperville an exciting place to live, work and play," Chirico said.

When it comes to play, Naperville Park District Executive Director Ray McGury said if he could pick a theme for 2018 it would be planning for the future.

The park board will start off the new year finalizing a strategic plan that would run through 2020.

With much of the land in Naperville built out, the park district will solicit help from the community planning its last large, undeveloped open space, the 33-acre Southwest Community at 95th Street and Park Wolf's Crossing Road.

"Perhaps they want more sports fields or even an athletic center. We really don't know what they want," McGury said.

He said the previous strategic plan didn't include Southwest Park because the homes were not projected to be constructed until 2020.

"But 2020 is here," and that area needs playgrounds as soon as possible, McGury added.

In the coming year, the district also is taking a detailed look at the district's two championship golf courses: Springbrook and Naperbrook.

The district hired Batavia-based Martin Design Partnership to analyze golf course features and site issues – irrigation, drainage, tree cover strategy, aesthetics and playability – and suggest ways to improve the courses.

The company is expected to collect data and hold public meetings before producing a final report by late next summer.

McGury said it was important to hire someone outside the district to conduct the study.

"We don't have anyone with an engineering and architectural background," he said.

Although the district may be planning ahead, McGury said it's critical to care for existing parks and facilities. The 2018 budget allots money for the restoration of six playgrounds, field and trail improvements at Frontier Sports Complex, and renovation work at the Riverwalk Warming House and the fishing piers at Commissioners Park and Hobson West Ponds.

The district also will proceed with an initiative to use organic herbicides on playgrounds and eight designated parks.

In an effort to raise awareness on some of the crimes that can occur in relatively crime-free Naperville, the police department is launching its "A Safer Naper" campaign this month. The initiative will introduce one theme each month, educating residents on how to prevent crime and keep themselves safe from said incident.

Themes will revolve around topics like fraud awareness, burglary prevention, alcohol and internet safety, among others. According to a police news release last week, Naperville police will launch #ASaferNaper on social media, put out tips and advice on its website and social media pages, and bring it up via advertising or potential community presentations.

"We are very fortunate to have a low crime rate in the City of Naperville; however, we have experienced an increase in some key categories," said Police Chief Robert Marshall in a written statement. "Our department will continue to focus on crime prevention efforts in partnership with residents. Programs such as Lock It or Lose It and See Something, Say Something are important initiatives to help keep our crime rate one of the lowest for communities our size."

In the upcoming months, the school board in Indian Prairie School District 204 will weigh the district's ability to implement the final phase of a technology plan that would put a computer device into the hands of nearly every student in the district.

In fall 2016 Chromebooks were issued to middle school students. A year later, high schools were included in the rollout.

The plan is to provide Chromebooks to every second-grader to fifth-grader in the district starting in fall 2018. Students in kindergarten and first grade would be given a tech device on a two-to-one basis.

This spring Naperville School District 203 will conclude its first year of having every student in second grade through high school learning with a Chromebook during the school year. Similar to what is proposed in District 204, District 203 kindergarten and first-grade students share iPads.

©2018 the Naperville Sun (Naperville, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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