Joliet — Cesar Suarez is making a return trip to Joliet as the city’s new director of economic development.
Suarez, who started May 24, leads what is now a three-person staff as the city expands its economic development team.
He comes from Peoria, which Suarez noted has a four-person economic development staff.
And, he’s no stranger to Joliet.
Suarez worked in Joliet for the Will County Center for Economic Development in the mid-1990s as director of business development. These were the formative years of Will County’s economic boom.
Looking back, Suarez said, CED was managing 150 projects a year.
“My key role was to reach out to all of the individual people and businesses that were coming into the county,” he said. “I learned a lot about how to work with investors who come to the region.”
Suarez will also do it for Joliet. But he also plans to create a proactive approach, so the city can become a force in shaping diverse economic development and a resource for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
He spoke about his plans after a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for the 1.6 million square foot distribution center for Harbor Freight Tools in the CenterPoint Intermodal Center. Next door is a new 1.1 million square foot distribution center for Walmart as big business continues to bring big operations to Joliet.
Suarez said he wants the city to be able to nurture the growth of small businesses and new entrepreneurs while continuing to welcome larger companies looking for locations in the city.
He highlighted his own diverse experience in chambers of commerce and economic development staff in urban, suburban and rural areas.
“I hope I can bring to Joliet everything I’ve learned here to help the economy grow,” Suarez said.
Suarez’s background includes serving as director of economic development at Galesburg and Centralia. He worked with a community development group in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. He was executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce in West Bend, Wisconsin, outside of Milwaukee.
Most recently, Suarez was a senior development specialist on Peoria’s economic development staff.
He said expanding Joliet’s staff to three people is a plus for implementing new programs.
Staff include Katherine Smith, an economic development specialist who has been with the department since February 2021, and recently hired Matt Wilson, a recent graduate of the University of St. Frances who is also an economic development specialist.
Both, Suarez said, are “excited about what’s happening in terms of economic development.”