Ball Horticultural

How Ball Horticultural is ‘Coloring the World’ from DuPage County

With a presence in 21 countries and six continents, DuPage County-based company Ball Horticultural literally colors the world with beautiful ornamental plants. And it all starts in DuPage.

In this post, we take a look at how Ball’s products and business model have evolved over more than 116 years; how their culture and values have sustained their growth; and how their current leadership and investment in DuPage County – including their new Ball Helix Innovation Center in West Chicago – are shaping the future of ornamental plants.

Watch the interview with their leadership team and read their story, below.

In a garden, relationships are everything. Plants depend on pollinators; pollinators depend on plants. The world of fungi, worms and microorganisms below the surface couldn’t survive without the world above; and the world above wouldn’t exist without the one below. To be a gardener is to cultivate these relationships, to nurture, encourage and protect an ecosystem, the boundaries of which can be hard to define.

Gardens at Ball Horticultural Headquarters

But as much as we gardeners like to think that our gardens depend on us, the dependency runs both ways. We grow plants. And, in many ways, plants grow us.

“Plants do more than beautify,” said Monique Hakkert, Director of Human Resources at Ball Horticultural Company. Headquartered in West Chicago, Ball is the global leader in ornamental horticulture: the design, production and distribution of flowers, grasses, vegetables, ground covers and other plants.

As Monique points out, the act of gardening, of engaging with nature and working with our hands, of creating and being responsible for something beautiful and alive, can benefit our mental health in profound ways, helping us heal psychological wounds—a trait that is particularly valuable in the second year of a global pandemic.

And it’s not only gardeners who benefit. Simply being in the presence of plants can impact one’s mindset. Plants can even prevent crime.

“It’s proven that, if you plant your city well and take care of it, you can actually reduce crime numbers.”

“Flowers are universal in the way that smiles are universal,” said Jim Kennedy, U.S. Sales Director. “It translates into every language. Handing someone flowers, or having flowers on your street or your patio or in your garden, there’s a universal nature in that.”

Gardens at Ball Horticultural

If one company is responsible for the proliferation of ornamental plants across the world – and within our own gardens – that company is Ball Horticultural. For more than a hundred years, Ball, a fourth-generation family business, has designed plants of every color and form imaginable, distributing their seeds (tens of millions annually) to countless growers across 90 countries and six continents. The growers, in turn, grow the seeds into maturity and distribute their products to countless nurseries and garden centers, which sell Ball’s products to you and me.

The global horticulture industry is a complex ecosystem, but Ball is the driving force behind it. (In the garden metaphor, Ball is the wind, scattering the seeds far and wide.) However, for Monique and many of the company’s employees, Ball’s role in this global ecosystem goes beyond ‘just’ providing millions upon millions of plants. Through their work, Ball supports family businesses, nurtures communities, and provides a product that is essential to the wellness of humans and the world at large, a world that is entangled with every aspect of our lives.

“We not only beautify the world. We have a bigger purpose.”

Ball Horticultural Office Space

Recently, in pursuit of that purpose, Ball developed a high-tech tool.

Planted at the center of Ball’s West Chicago headquarters, the Ball Helix Innovation Center is home to some of the industry’s most advanced laboratories. Here, a team of world-class researchers have the technology and space they need to develop new products, study and fight plant diseases, and quietly revolutionize our flower beds.

This work is supported by the facility’s design. Like a good garden, the space promotes the cross-pollination of ideas. Open spaces and glass walls allow light to filter through, while wide hallways and common areas encourage people from different groups and departments to mingle.

In the past, says Dr. Matthew Mouw, Chief Technology Officer, the research and development side of Ball was somewhat siloed from the rest of the company. Now, due to the inclusive design of the Innovation Center, new collaborations are springing up, and the lines between science, business and marketing are blurring. Ball is beginning to feel less like a traditional company – with departments and other artificial divides – and more like an ecosystem.

“We designed this space so that our people can intermingle and interact very effectively,” Matt said. “We have a diverse group here – some fresh out of grad school, PhDs, technicians; some younger, some older – each bringing different ways of thinking, different specialties and experiences across scientific disciplines.

“The one thing that links us all together is our passion for the industry and the products we make. And, of course, our love of plants.”

The work conducted in these laboratories can feel abstract; peering at a plant cell through the lens of a high-powered microscope is a far cry from tending a garden. But, in a way, Ball’s researchers are tending a garden—in fact, their work is impacting millions of gardens across the world. Here, once again, the design of the Innovation Center peels away the divide between concept and reality. The lab’s glass walls and expansive windows allow researchers to look up from their microscopes and see the gardens that line the building, where Ball’s latest products are planted. They can literally see their efforts in bloom.  

Ball Helix Innovation Center

Some ecosystems are the result of careful planning and deliberate action. But often, they begin with a chance moment—a seed that rode a gust of wind and happened to land in the right soil in the right climate at precisely the right time.

Looking at the elaborate ecosystem that is Ball Horticultural today, it can be hard to imagine that all of this started when a fourteen-year-old boy ran away from home.

“My grandfather was an unusual guy,” said Anna Ball, the current CEO and Third-Generation owner of Ball.

After the young George J. Ball fled home, he began working for cut-flower growers, where he learned the ins and outs of the horticulture trade. In 1898, he served in the Spanish-American War, traveling to Cuba and the Philippines, where he kept a daily journal. (He maintained it, in various cloth- and leather-bound notebooks, for the next 50 years.) When he returned to the States, George opened his own greenhouse in Glen Ellyn. He eventually ran out of room, so he picked up his operation and moved to West Chicago, where the seed of a business grew into a sprawling enterprise.

Innovation was always at the core of Ball’s business model. As George developed his own strains of flowers, selecting for varieties that were disease-resistant and easier to grow, his business began expanding, sprouting into new markets overseas. The company remained in the family ever since; Anna’s father expanded Ball’s reach internationally, while Anna herself, at a dynamic moment for the company, shifted Ball’s focus away from vegetables and toward ornamental flowers. Anna’s daughter, Susannah, is the Fourth-Generation Owner. Today, Ball is among the last family-owned horticultural businesses of its scale—and the only one remaining in the United States.

“In recent years, the horticultural industry has been undergoing a lot of consolidations and acquisitions,” Susannah said, “so we’re one of the last family-owned horticultural businesses in the world. That’s something that really sets us apart.”

“We have a people-oriented culture, and I think that’s at least in part because we’re a family-owned business,” Anna said.

“A lot of our customers are family businesses, too,” said Jim. “We have our families here at Ball, and we serve families as our customer base, too. Our families drive success for their families, for their teams, and for their communities.”

Although George died in 1949 – at the time, he was en route to Japan, his pockets filled with seeds – his legacy lives on, particularly in the design of the West Chicago headquarters’ newest building.

Anna says that one of George’s core values was transparency. He believed that knowledge, like plants, was a gift made to be shared, and he lived this value by sharing his vast compendium of expertise through his books and magazines. Today, that transparency is embodied in the Ball Helix Innovation Center. Whenever a person looks through the facility’s glass walls and sees the work happening in Ball’s laboratories – a concept that Anna calls ‘Science on Display’ – they are peering through George’s legacy.

Ball Helix Innovation Center

In a garden, relationships are everything. The same is true for a business.

And it’s not only the relationships within the company that count. The relationships that it fosters with the greater community, the people and businesses that both impact the company and are impacted by it, ultimately shape its future.

George could have grown his business anywhere. But it’s hard to imagine Ball becoming the global leader that it is today without its DuPage roots. For one, DuPage County is located at an international cargo gateway, the epicenter of a transportation network that includes air, rail, highways and water transport, allowing businesses within the area to move goods to anywhere in North America or across the globe quickly, efficiently and reliably.

There’s also the talent pool. Ball’s industry-leading innovations are only possible because the company manages to recruit some of the industry’s best talent, many of whom live and work within the DuPage region.

“Chicagoland offers a talent pool that’s essentially infinite,” said Todd Billings, Ball’s Director of New Business Development. “Ball’s work requires a broad range of disciplines, and Chicagoland is able to fill them all.

“We are so close to Chicago that we can benefit from all the city has to offer. But in DuPage, we also have the quality of life: a lot of open space and trails, arts and entertainment. We really have the best of both worlds.”

Having a large talent pool helps – and a high-tech facility like the Helix Center is bound to be a recruiting magnet – but Ball’s greatest strength is in keeping its people. The average employee works at Ball for 12.5 years, a number that suggests there is something about the combination of the company’s culture, chemistry, history, people, and the DuPage community at large – the whole ecosystem in which this century-old business is deeply intertwined – that is greater than the sum of its parts.

“We build long-lasting relationships with each other,” Monique said. “The camaraderie is really high, and we’re integrated into the communities where we live and work and do business. We’ve built these deep relationships inside and outside the company – with our customers, our industry, everyone – and those relationships build us.

“It all connects.”

Ball Horticultural

DuPage County, Illinois

Want to learn more about DuPage County? Take a look at this inspiring story of a local entrepreneur, dive into the history of the I-88 Corridor, or explore how one DuPage community is diversifying its economy.

Made in DuPage

Made in DuPage

Manufacturing is a major part of our region’s heritage. As the 5th-largest industry in DuPage County, manufacturing employs more than 57,000 people. This October, we are celebrating Manufacturing Month by sharing the stories of the products, flavors, foods, and more that are Made in DuPage


Two Brothers Brewing Company

Warrenville | Craft Beer, Coffee

In the last 25 years, Two Brothers Brewing Company has grown from its humble beginnings as a “two-man passion project” into a lifestyle brand that includes award-winning craft beer, three artisan restaurants, specialty-grade coffee, a distribution company, and a line of hand-craft spirits.

Founded by brothers Jim and Jason Ebel in 1996, Two Brothers has locations in Naperville, Aurora, and Warrenville—where they produce their craft beer and coffee. Well-known for high-quality, well-balanced beers that push the boundaries of flavor, Two Brothers is 100% family-owned and staunchly independent.

DuPage Craft Beer


Shawn Sargent Designs

Glen Ellyn | Handcrafted Home Decor & Accessories

Based in Glen Ellyn, Shawn Sargent Designs brings colorful characters and vibrant patterns to everyday products. Handcrafted using sustainable materials, the company offers home décor, kitchen goods, paper products, bags, gifts, and accessories.

In the last 7 years, Shawn Sargent Designs has grown from a one-woman operation to a small business with national exposure. They’ve cultivated a community of women, artists, teachers, sewers, and U.S.-based makers that create their best-selling fabric Microwave Bowl Holders which have been featured by Real Simple Magazine, Good Morning America, and more.

Shawn Sargent Designs



Wood Dale | Packaging Equipment

Located in Wood Dale, nVenia creates next-level packaging equipment integration and innovation. Formed by the consolidation of several Duravant entities, nVenia celebrated the grand opening of their new headquarters earlier this month (October 2021).

nVenia designs and manufactures primary, secondary and end-of-line packaging equipment, featuring the product brands of Arpac, Fischbein, Hamer, and Ohlson. Together, these product brands include shrink wrappers, tunnels and bundlers, tray and case formers, case packers, robotic and conventional palletizers, pallet stretch wrapper systems, open-mouth bag sewing and sealing systems, large format bagging and automation equipment, and weighing and counting operations. nVenia’s expertise includes conceptualizing, designing, manufacturing, installing, integrating, and servicing this equipment.


Proto Productions

Addison | Custom Display Cases

This DuPage business brings together designers, artisans, and technicians to craft premium quality display cases that safeguard some of the nation’s most invaluable artifacts. Founded in 1974, Proto Productions moved to Addison in 1990 where each case is custom designed and built to provide barrier-free viewing.

Their work can be seen at the Art Institute of Chicago, Detroit Institute of Arts, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, and Massachusetts State House, to name a few. Their display cases preserve and exhibit many treasured pieces of history, including the original Oregon State Constitution and Chief Justice John Marshall’s robe.

Proto Productions Addison


Show-Off, Inc.

Roselle | Custom Costumes

Custom costume shop Show-Off Inc. helps performers stand out among the competition with their flawless custom fit, professional workmanship, and unique designs. The DuPage company designs and manufactures custom costumes for competitive and performance groups ranging from figure skating dresses to drill team uniforms, ballroom dancewear to pro wrestling wear, and more. Show-Off, Inc. was founded over four decades ago, and has been based in Roselle since 2005.



Downers Grove | Flavor, Color, and Ingredient Solutions

This DuPage company uses science to make things taste delicious and smell amazing. Founded in 1971 and headquartered in Downers Grove since 1982, Flavorchem creates and manufactures flavor, color and ingredient solutions, including many organic-certified products. Meanwhile, their fragrance division, Orchidia Fragrances, develops inspired creations through the researchers’ knowledge and passion for fragrance. The company’s sweet, savory, sour and spicy creations are produced at manufacturing facilities throughout the world. 

Flavorchem Downers Grove



Addison | Medical Products, Devices, and Technologies

This DuPage innovator makes technologies that improve women’s health worldwide, including in remote areas with limited access to healthcare. Headquartered in Addison, MedGyn is present in more than 140 countries, delivering a comprehensive portfolio of OB/GYN products.

MedGyn DuPage


Ball Horticultural Company

West Chicago | Ornamental Plant Breeder, Producer, and Wholesale Distributor 

Have a garden? Chances are, your plants are rooted in the work of Ball Horticultural Company, right here in West Chicago, DuPage County. A family-owned business founded in 1905, Ball Horticultural is on a mission to be the world leader in the research, breeding, production and marketing of ornamental crops. Its innovative and award-winning work can be found in gardens across six continents.

<Ball Horticultural Company DuPage County


Pioneer Services Inc.

Addison | Precision Parts

This DuPage manufacturer makes custom parts that are used in some of the world’s most important products—including lab equipment where COVID-19 vaccines are being tested, cooling machines used in giant data centers, hydraulic equipment for energy producers, and hundreds more. Headquartered in Addison, Pioneer Service Inc. is a Women-Owned Small Business with 30 years of experience. 

Pioneer Services DuPage County


Greenleaf Foods, SPC

Elmhurst | Plant-Based Foods

Some of the North America’s most delicious plant-based protein is made right here in DuPage County! Headquartered in Elmhurst, Greenleaf Foods, SPC, is owner of popular brands Lightlife® and Field Roast, which create nearly 50 plant-based products. Today, the brands have taken a leading market position in the refrigerated, plant-based protein category in the U.S., and they plan to continue enticing new customers who never knew that plant-based protein could taste so good. 

Greenleaf Foods DuPage County



Lisle, Naperville | Connectivity Solutions Provider

This DuPage business is enabling life-saving technologies during COVID-19. Headquartered in Lisle, with a manufacturing facility in Naperville, Molex works with customers in fields like healthcare and data communications to improve lives around the world. Recently, the company collaborated with customers to develop assemblies for thermal camera systems and portable ventilators, technology that’s critical to detecting infections and saving lives. 

Molex DuPage County


Fusion OEM

Burr Ridge | Integrated Robot Solutions

This Burr Ridge-based company engineers integrated robot solutions. For decades robotics has been reserved for large manufacturers such as automobile manufacturers, but Fusion’s affordable robotic solutions extended the market to small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises.

Fusion OEM assembles the machines that produce the air-filled “pillows” that protect Amazon orders, machines that place the plastic “six pack” rings on beer cans, and the Carvey— a unit that small businesses, “makers” and students use to mill untold number of innovative products.

Fusion OEM DuPage County


IP Automation 

Downers Grove | Automation and Wire Fabrication Machinery

What do a stove and shopping cart have in common? Hint: The answer does NOT involve food. Still thinking??? Here’s the answer: Both contain BENT WIRES! The wire rack inside your oven is shaped by the same machine that creates your Costco cart. These products are made possible thanks to companies like IP Automation in Downers Grove known for its wireforming machines and automation lines.

IP Automation DuPage County



Carol Stream | Custom Food Service & Water Treatment Solutions

Family-owned and operated, Antunes is a leading provider of custom countertop cooking equipment and water filtration systems. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Antunes quickly leveraged its in-house design and fabrication capabilities. Stepping into action early, they developed safety and sanitation equipment – countertop shields and hand sanitizer dispenser stands – enabling other businesses to stay open. Read more about them here.

Antunes Carol Stream Facility DuPage County


Victor Envelope Company

Bensenville | Commercial Printing

For over 50 years, the Victor Envelope Company has delivered on its brand promise: “Envelopes when you need them.” Residing in a 250,000 square foot, air conditioned, state of the art manufacturing and printing facility in Bensenville, the company produces more than 1 billion envelopes annually!

Its dedicated workforce of Machine Adjusters, Machine Operators, Printers, and Mechanics—just to name a few— blend modern print technology, craftsmanship and engineering to deliver the fastest turnaround times in the industry.

Victor Envelope says it embraces its social responsibility to manufacture a competitive product while minimizing any negative impact on the environment. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was deemed an essential manufacturer. “We dedicated ourselves to keeping our people safe and healthy during the pandemic,” says Susan Ryan, VP of Human Resources. “COVID-19 generated an increased demand for Ballot Envelopes which we were prepared to manufacture.”

Victor Envelope DuPage County



Itasca & Bolingbrook | Sweet Treats

Ferrara, an emerging powerhouse in the North American confections and snacking categories, produces the sweet treats and other delights at its Itasca and Bolingbrook facilities.  

A $3B organization, Ferrara is No. 1 in seasonal confections and No. 2 in sugar confections. The powerhouse company has entered the world’s largest cookies market through the acquisition of a beloved portfolio of cookie brands, a category growing at more than four percent. 

Sustainable growth means Ferrara continues to expand and hiring needs remain constant. Shaping the future of the candy and cookie industry, employees provide quality products to millions of people daily.

For more information visit:


Packaging Personified

Carol Stream | Flexible Packaging Manufacturer

Apples, carrots, potatoes… Ever wondered about the bags they come in? What about those long black tarps spread across the ground weathering the toughest elements? Meet Packaging Personified. More than a catchy name, this Carol Stream-based manufacturer creates environmentally-friendly storage solutions for frozen foods, produce, landscape, and other markets. Founded in 1975, the company supplies packaging, casings, and wrappings using multiple state-of-the-art methods. Learn more about the company here:

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