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Local Column

OLSON: Advance DeKalb County by sharing opinions

I’m an opinionated person, and I’ll tell you what I think. You don’t even have to ask me.

A sports car with an automatic transmission is a waste. The 40-cent “coffee with white” from the office vending machine does the job as well as the stuff from Starbucks. The Cubs would be better off if they left Wrigley Field and built a modern baseball stadium where fans could tailgate like civilized people.

See what I mean?

This comes in handy when writing editorials for the Daily Chronicle or penning this weekly screed. It also can cause problems with important people – my wife, mostly – a concept I still forget from time to time.

Sorry, wife.

Sometimes people seek me out asking my opinion on health insurance in America, my air travel experiences, whether they should transfer from their current college to a new one, or why the police are giving them static. (With that last one, turns out it was with good reason.) I rarely turn them down.

So naturally, I couldn’t resist taking the online Advancing DeKalb County survey, which you can find online at

The survey is a project of the DeKalb County Community Foundation, along with partners including Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies. The idea is to find out what residents in the county consider key issues, then allocate grant money aimed at addressing those issues.

The survey gives a list of important issues and asks people to pick the three most important to them personally. The list includes: transportation, crime/public safety, prejudice/discrimination, education/youth development, housing, employment, recreation/arts, poverty, health/health care, local economy, environmental sustainability, human services, or whatever you want to write in.

The survey goes on to ask about areas within the category that you consider most important.

You can take the survey from now until midnight June 30. (Midnight is part of the day that’s ending, not the one about to begin.)

As the survey says, your responses will be anonymous. Some of mine, however, will be public.

Issue No. 1: Local economy. It’s still all about the economy, stupid. When a community prospers, then enough people are doing well and working and paying taxes that we’ve got the time and the money to address everything else. Remember those days?

Three specific topics of particular concern about the local economy, I went with attracting manufacturing companies, promoting the startup of new ventures, and greater variety of stores/businesses.

Manufacturing jobs are key. Our area has the infrastructure to support more manufacturing, and we’re already set to lose about 100 jobs when General Electric closes its DeKalb plant in 2015.

Promoting the startup ventures is important. Northern Illinois University turns out thousands of educated, motivated people every year. They have ideas and energy, and it would be great to keep more of them here. New companies working in technology and information are key to making more NIU grads into long-term residents.

And we just need more places to shop and eat around here. You can tell by the excitement generated when a new shoe store opens in DeKalb or a brewpub plan surfaces in Sycamore, it’s clear that the people of DeKalb County are eager for more places to eat and shop.

Next most important area: Education/youth development.

Our job as people is to make sure that every generation is smarter than the one before. So far we’ve succeeded in that, and we’ll continue to,` so long as we make public education accessible to all. 

As someone with three school-age children, strong schools are a big deal. And as a homeowner, the quality of the local schools is a pocketbook issue, as a house in a town with subpar schools isn’t worth as much.

For my priorities under local education, put me down for after-school activities, quality of public education, and the availability of technology.

If technology isn’t readily accessible to all children, then the playing field isn’t level. They’ve acknowledged that in DeKalb schools, and their one-to-one technology initiative, which is set to expand this year, is a great program.

Third priority: Recreation/Arts and Culture.

I know, I should have gone with something much more serious like poverty, discrimination or crime. To be clear, I’m against all of those.

But the arts are about actually being a person, and recreation is about feeling alive. This area is what makes us a community, what connects us to each other.

Big events, big games, these are things that bring us together, that make it seem like we’re all part of something. They’re how we stay in shape, how we meet people, how we do the living we want to do.

That’s why I’d love to see facilities such as NIU’s Convocation Center book more acts, or see more efforts to accommodate bicyclists.

We already have some options, and I want more. More recreational opportunities, more arts and cultural exhibits and performances.

Local park districts in DeKalb and Sycamore are working toward expanding what they can offer, and that’s a good thing. We’ve got a great community of artists and athletes and some great facilities.

And I want more. 

That, and an indoor ice arena. Then we’d be all set.

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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