grant funding

$175 Million Available in B2B Grants for Restaurants, Hotels and Creative Arts Businesses

Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) announced $175 million in available grant funding through the Back to Business (B2B) program. Following state recovery for businesses totaling nearly $1.5 billion, the latest American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) -funded opportunity is designed to provide additional support for the hardest-hit sectors, including restaurants (B2B Restaurants), hotels (B2B Hotels), and businesses or organizations in the creative arts sector (B2B Arts). To provide hands-on support and raise awareness about the program, the State has mobilized a network of more than 100 community navigators across Illinois. 

“In the three years since COVID-19 brought our state, our nation, and our world to a standstill, Illinois businesses have come back swinging—in part thanks to our Back to Business program,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “My administration is committed to helping small business owners move past survival and onto long-term success—and this latest investment of $175 million in B2B grants does exactly that.”

As outlined in statute, B2B Arts and B2B Restaurants grant award amounts will be determined by revenue declines, as reflected on tax returns, and funding for hotels will be allocated by number of rooms. Applications are open from April 5 through May 10, 2023 and awards are expected to be made several weeks after the deadline date. All eligible applicants will receive a grant as long as the business meets eligibility requirements and submits proper documentation and attestations. 

The program design is based on legislation establishing the Restaurant Employment and Stabilization Grant Program ($50 million), Hotel Jobs Recovery Grant Program ($75 million) and the Illinois Creative Recovery Grant program ($50 million). The funding is designed to offset losses and support job retention in the hardest-hit industries. 

“Illinois’ businesses have made a strong recovery since the most difficult times of the pandemic and we’re proud to build upon that progress through additional support for hard-hit industries,” said DCEO Director Kristin A. Richards. “Restaurants, hotels and creative arts are industries designed to bring people together, and with an additional $175 million we are investing in communities and supporting continued economic development.” 

DCEO has enlisted a robust network of more than 100 community navigators to conduct outreach and provide technical assistance in the hardest hit communities. Community Navigators will be conducting outreach, hosting webinars, and supporting prospective applicants to prepare before the application opens on April 5, 2023. This is in addition to available small business support available through Illinois’ network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). 

In order to manage a high volume of applications in a timely manner, DCEO has enlisted a program administrator – the National Community Reinvestment Coalition Community Development Fund (NCRC CDF) – to support with application review, provide technical portal support for applicants, manage the development of the application portal and provide support in processing payments. 

“The impacts of the pandemic are far from over for small businesses and its aftermath continues to threaten their long-term success, especially for those owned by Black, Latino, and other underserved entrepreneurs,” said Marisa Calderon, Executive Director of NCRC CDF. “These grants will help to shore up small businesses, preserve what they have worked so hard to build, and save jobs in our communities.”

Eligibility, Application, and Awards

The B2B Restaurants (20 ILCS 605/605-1100), B2B Hotels (20 ILCS 605/605-1095) and B2B Arts (30 ILCS 709/40) programs were designed in accordance with state statute, which specified industries, buckets of funding, spending guidelines and more. A summary of the programs are included below. 

In addition to webinars and outreach hosted by community navigators, DCEO will be hosting statewide information kick-off sessions on the dates below:

Statewide DCEO English-Language Webinars

Statewide Spanish-Language Webinar:
Subvenciones Back to Business (B2B por sus siglas en inglés) para restaurantes, hoteles, y empresas de artes creativas

“Budgets are about priorities, and another $175 million for the B2B program is once again reiterating that small businesses are top of mind,” said Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth, (D-Peoria). “Small businesses are built on dreams. Whether it is a young person with a new plan, or a long-held idea for a second career, it is a priority that the State of Illinois do everything we can to help them thrive.”

“The Back to Business program and other relief efforts helped thousands of small businesses across Chicago and Illinois bounce back from the pandemic,” said State Senator Elgie?Sims, (D-Chicago). “Because Illinois has been responsible in our budgeting, we are able to provide funds for entrepreneurs and businesses that need it most.”

“Tourism businesses like restaurants, hotels, and arts organizations are the beating heart of not just my district’s local economy, but they are critical to the entire state,” said State Senator Sara Feigenholtz, (D-Chicago). “I look forward to businesses across Illinois being reinvigorated by these dollars as they gear up for what will be an incredible travel summer for our state.”

“We are excited to spread the word about the additional $175 million in available grant funding to businesses that need support,” said State Senator Celina Villanueva, (D-Chicago). “During previous rounds, I walked door to door with DCEO to make sure that small business owners, especially immigrant-owned businesses, knew about this opportunity so they can get the support that they need. I look forward to visiting my small business corridors again with this great news.”

“Chicago has seen an encouraging rise in tourism and the timing couldn’t be better for the small businesses in my district,” said State Rep. Theresa Mah, (D-Chicago). “We look forward to building upon this momentum as the state launches the next round of funding for restaurants, hotels and creative arts organizations.”

“These restaurant grants are a lifeline for local restaurants that are continuing to recover from the past few years,” said Sam Toia, President and CEO of Illinois Restaurant Association. “We are grateful to Governor Pritzker and DCEO for their partnership and ongoing support of the hospitality industry.”

“The hotel industry was among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. As occupancy numbers rise closer to pre-pandemic levels and the industry continues to recover, the funding from this grant will give us the boost we need to rehire workers and support the returning tourism demand,” said Michael Jacobson, President & CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association. “I want to thank Governor Pritzker and DCEO for their efforts to support Illinois’ tourism economy and show the rest of the world that we are ready to welcome visitors to our communities.”

“This $50 million in relief funding for the creative sector couldn’t come at a more critical time,” says Claire Rice, Executive Director of Arts Alliance Illinois. “We just passed the three-year anniversary of the March 2020 shutdown, and our sector is still facing significant challenges: lower revenues, audience hesitancy, and increased expenses. We’re grateful to the State of Illinois for making this recovery funding possible, and the Alliance will work tirelessly with a large partner network to make sure that our colleagues in arts and culture across Illinois know that these invaluable dollars are available to help recoup some of their losses.”

B2B Restaurants, B2B Hotels and B2B Arts builds on the success of the Business Interruption Grants (BIG) program and the first round of the Back to Business (B2B) Programs, launched by the Pritzker administration to provide more than 15,000 awards to businesses totaling $536 million, with 47 percent of grants awarded to minority-owned businesses – a testament to the work of the community navigators program designed to help reach more underserved businesses in minority and rural communities across the state. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, DCEO has allocated nearly $1.5 billion in pandemic-related support for businesses, including $536 million through B2B & BIG, $899 million in Child Care Restoration Grants (administered in partnership with DHS), $18.5 million in local CURE funding specifically allocated to businesses, $14 million in Emergency Hospitality Grants, and $3.5 million in BIG agriculture grants.

Naperville office lease

New retail and office leases secured at Naperville’s CityGate Centre

Calamos Real Estate LLC recently announced it has entered into two new lease agreements, one each for retail and office at CityGate Centre in Naperville.

Apotheco Pharmacy Group will open its newest retail location leasing 3,740 square feet at 2155 CityGate Ln., bringing the 54,479 square-foot retail building to 90 percent occupancy. The lease, brokered by Frontline Real Estate Partners for Apotheco and Calamos Real Estate for CityGate Centre, will commence July 1, 2023, for a 10-year term. Warren Johnson Architects, Inc., will design the space which is projected to open in late summer.

With locations in 15 states including an existing Illinois location in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, Apotheco is a dermatologic pharmacy; it keeps a fully stocked, extensive inventory of dermatology medications frequently used to treat acne, eczema, psoriasis, wound care and more. While its pharmacists are highly specialized in dermatological medications, they are fully licensed to fill other prescribed medications and will order as needed, making it a welcome amenity for residents of Domain CityGate, the new, 285-unit luxury apartment building that opened at CityGate Centre fall 2022, other area residents and employees of CityGate Centre’s commercial tenants.

“Beyond the convenience it offers those who live and work here and nearby, Apotheco makes a lot of sense at CityGate Centre,” said Calamos Real Estate Vice President Chris Landis. “As home to two leading dermatology practices— Oak Dermatology and Duly Health & Care—it’s a smart choice for this highly specialized, yet full-service, pharmacy to open its west suburban location at CityGate Centre.”

In another separate transaction, Elequin Capital, a capital investments firm founded in 2019 by Pete Guiterrez and headquartered in midtown Manhattan, has leased 2,628 square feet of ready-to-use office at 2135 CityGate Ln. The lease, which brings the Class A building to more than 86 percent occupancy, will commence April 1.

At CityGate Centre, the best attributes of an urban neighborhood – walkable access to fine dining along with casual fare; green space; a Forbes-rated, AAA Four Diamond hotel; healthcare, spa & fitness facilities; new, luxury apartments; and easy access via the state and interstate highway systems – and the Illinois Prairie Path – are together in a pristine, suburban setting. The mixed-use campus provides ample parking, food options, workout facilities and more that both commercial and residential tenants are looking for.

Calamos Real Estate LLC, a subsidiary of Calamos Property Holdings LLC, is focused on real estate activities throughout the United States, including acquisitions, development opportunities and joint ventures. The firm’s flagship development, CityGate Centre in Naperville, is a unique mixed-use development offering superior leasing opportunities for corporate and commercial tenants, as well as property management services of the highest caliber.

Business Relocation

Chicago Region Named Top Metro in the U.S. for Business, 10th Consecutive Year

Site Selection Magazine has named the Chicago region the Top Metro in the U.S. for corporate relocation and site selection, for the tenth consecutive year. News of the Chicago region’s Top Metro rank for 10 consecutive years was announced at an event this month, where World Business Chicago convened city and regional leaders with companies that made pro-Chicago decisions in 2022.

Site Selection Magazine reports that the Chicagoland metro area saw a record number of new and expanding corporate locations, more than any other region in the country. “If winning multiple championships establishes dynasties, what do you call it when you win ten years in a row?” asks Site Selection Managing Editor Adam Bruns. “In Chicagoland, they hand the ball back to the ref and act like they’ve been there before. Because they have. Our project data tell us the metro area continues to attract companies and the talent those companies covet. Led by World Business Chicago, the newly formed Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership and most of all by talented professionals, workers and business leaders, the region continues to meet its challenges with creative solutions, bold programs and the sort of candor and openness that’s almost a Chicago brand.”

2022 Top Metros Ranking

Major companies such as Mars Wrigley, Kellogg’s, Google, BMO, EeroQ, Bartesian, New Cold, and Lion Electric are among those that have recently expanded or relocated to Chicago in 2022, contributing to the economy and bringing substantial investments, job growth, and new opportunities to the region. The region’s ongoing efforts to create a dynamic and welcoming business environment, along with its commitment to driving sustainable and inclusive economic growth that benefits all residents, have helped to maintain its status as the top metro for corporate investment in the US.

The Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership promotes the region as a powerhouse with a well-established infrastructure, deeply rooted industries, and a robust network of businesses. With its exceptional connectivity, the region is uniquely positioned to weather economic challenges. The greater Chicagoland region is now home to a thriving startup ecosystem, bolstered by a growth capital network, driven by innovation and technology. These newly emerging and accelerated ecosystems are set to propel the region towards an even brighter economic future.

About the Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership

The Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership (GCEP), a first-of-its-kind united effort including the City of ChicagoCook County, and six counties across metropolitan Chicago, is driving a regional economic strategy intended to deliver mutual benefits to the partners, and strengthen the greater Chicagoland region’s economic force in an increasingly fierce competitive global market.  The GCEP is focused on promoting the region’s many assets, including extensive freight infrastructure, diverse talent, strong exporting industries, and world-class institutions of innovation, research, and culture as its competitive global identity.

Corporate investment

Illinois Ranks #2 State in the Nation for Corporate Investment

Site Selection Magazine – an international industry-leading business publication — released its annual corporate expansion and relocation rankings, naming Illinois 2nd in the nation for corporate projects and Chicago the Top Metro for the 10th year in a row. The publication noted 487 Illinois projects in 2022, moving the state up from the number three spot in the previous year’s rankings.
“Illinois is open for business and leading the way as one of the top 10 states for corporate investment, with Chicago named the number one metro for the 10th year in a row,” said Governor Pritzker. “Thanks to our nation-leading infrastructure revitalization, talented workforce, and growing economy, Illinois is the best place to do business.”
The issue also named the Chicago metropolitan area as the Top Metro for corporate investment for the 10th straight year. With a growing reputation as a tech hub with Google’s purchase of the Thompson Center and new headquarters moving in, such as Kellogg, Chicago continues to bolster its reputation as a global powerhouse.
“Illinois is the best state to live, work and do business and under Governor Pritzker’s leadership, we’ve reached unprecedented fiscal health, surpassed $1 trillion GDP for the first time and continue to create jobs and grow our economy,” said Acting DCEO Director Kristin A. Richards. “We’re proud to have nearly 500 corporate investments in 2022 and looking ahead, we are doubling down on our business attraction and retention efforts to support economic development in every corner of the state.”
The State of Illinois has created an environment where companies can thrive through unprecedented investments in our infrastructure and our workforce, while also developing cutting edge programs that bring economic growth and jobs to the state. Illinois recently launched a $400 million invest in Illinois fund to attract large businesses and stay competitive with other states, expanded incentives for the clean energy industry, and made it easier for companies to apply for EDGE – the state’s primary incentive program.
The state also announced $40 million in grants to supercharge the development of megasites – large, developed sites ready for occupancy for manufacturers, distribution centers, industrial centers, and more. These grants will increase the number of investment-ready sites in Illinois and increase the state’s competitiveness for large-scale projects.
Companies that located or expanded throughout Illinois in 2022 include:
  • CyrusOne Data Center – $250 million facility located in Aurora
  • Ferrero – Bloomington manufacturing facility; $214.4 million investment and 200 jobs
  • GAF Commercial Roofing – Peru manufacturing plant; $80 million investment and 70 jobs
  • LG Chem/ADM – two new joint ventures in Decatur; 125 jobs
  • Ollie’s Bargain Outlet – Princeton distribution center; $68 million investment and 145 jobs
  • Prime Data Centers – New $1 billion data center in Elk Grove Village
  • T/CCI – Decatur retooling for EV component manufacturing; $20 million investment and 50 jobs
  • Tyson Foods – Caseyville manufacturing facility expansion, $180 million investment and 400 jobs
Similarly, the State of Illinois – which was recently named the top state in the Midwest for Workforce development by Site Selection – has made unprecedented investments in training programs and workforce facilities, including Manufacturing Training Academies, Illinois Works pre-apprenticeship programs, and nearly $180 million annually for clean energy jobs training and community support efforts under the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA).
“Site Selection’s ranking of top states for business attraction validates that we are on the right track,” said Intersect Illinois CEO Dan Seals. “Illinois has the talent, infrastructure, central location and some of the most competitive tools needed to attract major job creators to the state and companies are noticing.”
“Illinois’ performance improved in both categories of project counts this year – from third place to second in total projects and from seventh to fourth in projects per capita,” says Mark Arend, editor in chief of Site Selection. “This will signal to readers that Illinois is an attractive and effective location for establishing and expanding operations.”
Site Selection’s yearly analyses are regarded by corporate real estate analysts as “the industry scoreboard.” To qualify, projects must meet one or more of these criteria: investment of $1M or more, creation of 20 or more new jobs or 20,000 sq. ft. or more of new space.
CityGate Centre Class-A Office Space

Development Services Firm Koru Group Moving HQ to Naperville’s CityGate Centre

Calamos Real Estate LLC recently announced it has entered into a lease agreement with Koru Group, PLLC, a development services firm, to relocate its headquarters to CityGate Centre in Naperville. Koru will occupy 7,752 square feet of Class-A office space at 2135 CityGate Ln. The lease will commence on March 1 of this year.

Koru Group was incorporated in Geneva, Illinois in 2022 by merging longstanding firm Craig R Knoche Civil Engineers and Surveyors, owned by Steven Kudwa, with ECA Architects and Planners, owned by Eric Carlson, to create a seamless and holistic design process.

“Coming together as a new entity, we are excited to move to a new space that not only accommodates growth, but also is in an exceptional environment that reflects our brand,” said Kudwa. “Eric and I work diligently to maintain the highest level of quality but it’s our true commitment to serving our clients that sets us apart from other design firms.” 

Koru Group serves clients in more than 15 states specializing in private land development projects by bringing together a robust design team of architects and engineers to create projects that fit their client’s needs.  

“Many of our clients have shared that while they can’t tell the difference between an ‘A’ set of plans or a ‘B’ set of plans, they can certainly tell the difference between ‘A’ level of service and ‘B’ level of service,” said Carlson. “We are committed to providing both at all levels of our organization.”

At CityGate Centre, the best attributes of an urban neighborhood – walkable access to fine dining along with casual fare; green space; a Forbes-rated, AAA Four Diamond hotel; healthcare, spa & fitness facilities; new, luxury apartments; and easy access via the state and interstate highway systems – are together in a pristine, suburban setting. The mixed-use campus provides ample parking, food options, workout facilities and more that tenants are looking for.

Calamos Real Estate LLC, a subsidiary of Calamos Property Holdings LLC, is focused on real estate activities throughout the United States, including acquisitions, development opportunities and joint ventures. The firm’s flagship development, CityGate Centre in Naperville, is a unique mixed-use development offering superior leasing opportunities for corporate and commercial tenants, as well as property management services of the highest caliber.

business feature merkur

Merkur is Giving Chicagoland Manufacturers an Upgrade

Canadian engineering firm Merkur recently opened an office in Downers Grove, Illinois. Now, they’re working with longtime client Lion Electric – a zero-emissions vehicle manufacturer in nearby Joliet – as well as other Chicagoland businesses, to improve their efficiency and help them compete in a dynamic global market. Let’s take a look at what factors attracted Merkur to DuPage and how they’re helping shape the region’s future. 

Merkur was looking for the next big thing.

For nearly 30 years, the Quebec, Canada-based engineering firm had partnered with manufacturers across North America. During that time, they built a reputation as the “brains of the industry,” helping their clients upgrade systems, eliminate bottlenecks, develop new products, and build strategies that help businesses stay competitive.

From the very beginning, one of Merkur’s differentiators was their focus on implementation—the art of getting stuff done. While other engineering firms may provide helpful information, Merkur takes it a step further, working directly with clients to put their plans into action. Got a bottleneck that’s slowing down your factory? They identify the problem, tell you how to fix it, then work with you to make it happen. Going electric? They develop a plan to modify your assembly line and solve various logistical challenges, like sourcing and storing batteries. Then, they help you put that plan into action.

To put it another way, Merkur’s business is all about evolution: evolving products, assembly lines and entire businesses.

So when it came time to evolve their own company, they were ready.  

In 2021, the firm decided to open a second location. At the time, change was sweeping through the manufacturing industry; the technology was evolving, the supply chain was reorganizing, and the Electric Vehicles (EV) sector was revving up its engines. While Merkur’s portfolio had grown in recent years, they saw an opportunity to expand into new markets and help lead manufacturers through times of big, fast change. For decades, they helped Quebec’s manufacturing industry evolve; now, they were ready to bring their expertise to a new market.

But first, they had to choose the right location. And as they began weighing their options, they found a (literal) world of possibilities.

A Global Search

As they began their search for a second office location, Merkur kept an open mind. They considered places around the world, from Ontario to France. From the outset, they wanted their new office to focus on their core business: manufacturing’s transportation sector, the making of buses, ambulances, trucks, trains and ATVs. Whatever location they chose, it would have to be a place where this industry had a bright future.

“And then an opportunity came along,” said Jonathan Levesque, Merkur’s Director of Business Development and USA Market. “That’s often how life works, isn’t it? You prepare, you get ready for your next big move, and then something shows up.

“What showed up, of course, was Lion Electric.”

Follow the Leader

Lion Electric Chicagoland

Also based in Quebec, Lion Electric manufactures zero-emissions vehicles like school buses and urban trucks. For years, Merkur had partnered with Lion to improve their Canadian manufacturing plant and assist in product design.

One day, when Merkur was in the middle of their search for a second location, they received a call from their longtime client. As it turned out, Lion Electric was also looking to expand into a new market. Their search had brought them to Northern Illinois, the heart of the U.S. manufacturing industry and an epicenter of the growing EV sector. Lion planned to build a new headquarters in Joliet, a 900,000-square foot facility that would produce up to 20,000 electric vehicles each year.

They were building the future in Chicagoland, and they wanted Merkur to join them.  

The “Sweet Spot”

Working with Choose DuPage, which provided data and analysis on local market conditions, the Merkur team took an in-depth look at Northern Illinois’ manufacturing sector.

Jonathan Levesque Merkur
Jonathan Levesque, Merkur’s Director of Business Development and USA Market

“We quickly discovered there’s a lot of similarity between Quebec and Chicagoland,” Jonathan said. “There are many manufacturers here that fall within our core business. In fact, there are more in Chicagoland than the entire province of Quebec.”

In the Chicagoland region, manufacturing roots run deep. As a result, the market is a mix of new, ‘greenfield’ factories, like Lion Electric’s Joliet facility, and legacy manufacturers that have been operating in the region for decades. Merkur saw an opportunity to do business with both.

“Chicagoland really is the sweet spot,” said Dan Krohn, Business Development Manager at Merkur. “On the one hand, we’re very interested in the shiny new facilities. We want to be on the front end of planning those factories.

Dan Krohn Merkur
Dan Krohn, Business Development Manager at Merkur

“On the other, you have all these third-generation, fourth-generation businesses in the Chicago area. They’ve evolved, they’ve grown. But maybe they haven’t grown with the most focused strategy, and now their facilities need a little engineering love. We can step in and help them with a five-year plan to restructure the layout, fix bottlenecks, whatever they need.

“The one thing all manufacturers have in common is that they continually need to improve their flow and become more efficient. We can help anybody do that, whether their factory is brand-new, very old, or somewhere in between.”

“There’s Something Happening Here”

In 2021, Merkur opened their new office in Downers Grove, Illinois. From here, the firm is a short drive from their client Lion Electric in Joliet, as well as hundreds of potential clients across the Northern Illinois region. Merkur is in the “sweet spot,” a place where they can continue serving a key legacy client while expanding their portfolio amid a growing market.

The firm sees a bright future for the region, and they plan to be a part of it. Between Chicagoland’s legacy as a manufacturing powerhouse and its ability to attract top talent, the region is a global manufacturing leader, and it’s already setting the stage for the industry’s future. 

Competition from other regions will be fierce, but part of Merkur’s role is to help local manufacturers adapt, upgrade and stay competitive at a global level. And that’s a good thing for Chicagoland. When Merkur helps local businesses function better and be more profitable, those businesses are more likely to continue bringing jobs and investment to the local community, while encouraging others to do the same.

For Merkur, one of the region’s most exciting aspects is its fast-growing EV sector. The firm saw how the industry transformed Quebec; now, they’re experiencing the beginning of a similar phenomenon in Northern Illinois.

“Every single customer that’s on rails or wheels is going electric, or at least talking about it. All of them,” Jonathan said.

“Seeing that Lion was moving to Illinois, along with Rivian and others, is exciting for us. We can feel there’s something happening here. We’ve been a part of it in Quebec, and now we’re part of it here in Chicagoland.”

Breakfast with the Chair

Breakfast with the Chair: How to Recruit the Best of the Best (And Keep Them)

DuPage County business leaders gathered at PowerForward DuPage on Wednesday, January 25 for a wide-ranging  discussion about talent recruitment and retention. Morgan Freitag Strahan and Kimberly Buck Gough, Co-Founders of Rekroot, a recruiting coaching and consulting company, led the session.

The Hon. Deborah Conroy, Chair of the DuPage County Board, opened the event referencing current labor force challenges. She welcomed the conversation about best practices in “training talent, planting seeds for the labor force we need today… and into the future.” Leaders from banking, manufacturing, government, healthcare, information technology, construction and engineering participated in the lively dialogue. Attendees talked about the difficulty they have finding workers, as well as sharing successes in recruiting and keeping outstanding employees.

2023 Future of Work Trends

Morgan and Kimberly outlined several trends that will be important for managers and employers in the next year.

1). Employers will “quiet hire” in-demand talent.

The concept of “quiet quitting” — the idea of employees refusing to go “above and beyond” and doing the minimum required in their jobs — dominated work-related headlines in the second half of 2022. When employees “quiet quit,” organizations keep people but lose skills and capabilities.

In 2023, savvy organizations will turn this practice on its head and embrace “quiet hiring” as a way to acquire new skills and capabilities without adding new full-time employees. This will manifest as encouraging internal talent mobility, providing upskilling opportunities, and leveraging alternative methods of recruitment.

2). Hybrid flexibility will reach the front lines.

As we enter a more permanent era of hybrid work for desk-based employees, it’s time to find equitable flexibility for frontline workers, like those in manufacturing and healthcare.

Rekroot’s research has found that frontline workers are looking for flexibility when it comes to what they work on, who they work with, and the amount they work — in particular, control over and stability in their work schedule, as well as paid leave.

3). Managers will find themselves sandwiched between leader and employee expectations.

60% of hybrid employees say their manager is their most direct connection to company culture. And yet, managers are struggling to balance their employee expectations of purpose, flexibility, and career opportunities with performance pressure from senior leaders.

In 2023, leading organizations will provide fresh support and training to mitigate the widening managerial skills gap while simultaneously clarifying manager priorities and redesigning their roles where necessary.

4). Pursuit of nontraditional candidates will expand talent pipelines.

For years, organizations have talked about the strategic value of expanding and diversifying their talent pipelines. With more employees charting nonlinear career paths and organizations having trouble meeting their talent needs through traditional sourcing methods, now is the time to act.

To fill critical roles in 2023, organizations will need to become more comfortable assessing candidates solely on the skills needed to perform in the role, rather than their credentials and prior experience. Organizations will do this by removing formal education and experience requirements from job postings and instead reaching out directly to internal or external candidates from nontraditional backgrounds who may not have access to certain professional opportunities, or even be aware of them.

5). Healing pandemic trauma will open path to sustainable performance.

As the immediate COVID-19 threat recedes, our collective adrenaline is wearing off, leaving employees to contend with long-term physical and emotional impacts. Employees’ stress and worry in 2022 grew above even 2020 peaks — nearly 60% of employees report they are stressed at their jobs every day. The societal, economic, and political turbulence of the last few years is manifesting as decreased productivity and performance, no-notice quitting and workplace conflict.

In 2023, leading organizations will support employees by providing:

  • Proactive rest to help employees maintain their emotional resilience and performance, as opposed to offering rest as a recovery solution after both have plummeted. This may include proactive PTO before high-demand working periods, no-meeting Fridays, allotted wellness time, and including team PTO in managers’ goals.
  • Discussion opportunities to work through challenges and difficult topics without judgment or consequences.
  • Trauma counselors to train and coach managers on workplace conflict as well as how to have difficult conversations with employees.

 6). Organizations will drive DEI forward amid growing pushbacks.

Rekroot’s research found 42% of employees believe their organization’s DEI efforts are divisive. This pushback to DEI efforts can decrease workforce engagement, inclusion, and trust.

To address this fraught moment and maintain DEI momentum, HR must equip managers with tools and strategies to engage resistant employees and address pushback early before it evolves into more disruptive forms of DEI resistance. This could include:

  • Creating group-specific safe spaces based on key employee demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity) to proactively surface problems.
  • Tailoring communications and incentives to motivate allyship, for example, by recognizing and giving visibility to allies on internal platforms and company websites.
  • Upskilling employees with definitive “how-to” guidance that enables allyship by showing employees how, specifically, they can advance DEI goals via the actions they take in their professional capacities.

 7). Getting personal with employee support will create new data risks.

Being a human organization means knowing more about employees as people — a shift that has the potential to violate boundaries around deeply personal and private information. Organizations are increasingly using emerging technologies — artificial intelligence (AI) assistants, wearables, etc. — to collect data about employees’ health, family situations, living conditions, and mental health. While these technologies can enable employers to respond more effectively to employees’ needs, they also have the potential to create a looming privacy crisis.

In 2023, leading organizations will create an employee data bill of rights to support employees’ need for healthy boundaries in addition to overall well-being. HR leaders should ensure they prioritize transparency around how the organization collects, uses and stores employee data, and allow employees to opt out of practices they find objectionable.

 8). Concerns around AI bias will lead to more transparency in recruiting tech.

As more organizations leverage AI in recruiting, the ethical implications of these practices have become more urgent. In 2023, Morgan and Kimberly expect this issue to come to a head, particularly as governments begin scrutinizing the use of AI in hiring.

For example, a new law in New York City went into effect on January 1 that limits employers’ use of AI recruiting tools and requires organizations to undergo annual bias audits and publicly disclose their hiring metrics.

Organizations that use AI and machine learning in their hiring processes, as well as the vendors they rely on for these services, will face pressure to get ahead of new regulations. This includes being more transparent about how they are using AI, publicizing their audit data, and giving employees and candidates the choice to opt out from AI-led processes.

 9). Organizations must address workforce-wide erosion of social skills.

Many new-to-the-workforce employees are struggling: 51% of Gen Z employees say that their education has not prepared them to enter the workforce. And the pandemic means that these employees have had few in-person opportunities to observe norms and determine what is appropriate or effective within their organizations.

Rekroot’s analysis has made clear that, in fact, it’s not just Gen Z — everyone’s social skills have eroded since 2020. Burnout, exhaustion, and career insecurity erode performance. No one, from any generation, has cracked the code for navigating our new shared professional environment. Focusing exclusively on Gen Z will not adequately address this challenge; organizations must redefine professionalism for their entire workforce.

Rather than forcing employees back to in-person work to establish connections, leaders need to build intentional connections among employees across geographic — and generational — boundaries. Gartner research shows that to successfully create intentional interactions among employees, employers should focus on three elements: employee choice and autonomy, a clear structure and purpose, and a sense of levity and fun.

Proactive vs. Reactive Recruitment

Morgan and Kimberly explained that proactive recruitment is all about anticipation. It involves anticipating the staffing needs of a business and seeking out candidates before staffing levels become problematic. 

Reactive recruitment is all about the here and now, meaning that a company ”reacts” to the loss of an employee by launching a job hunt once a position has been vacated. Reactive recruitment fills an immediate need for employees, rather than anticipating needs going forward.

Reactive recruitment often results in existing employees picking up the slack and covering these shifts until the manager can quickly find a new worker. This can take weeks or sometimes months of reading applications, conducting interviews and training to get a new employee up to speed.

Many companies have moved away from this type of strategy because it puts a lot of pressure on a company to find a worker – sometimes not even an ideal candidate – as quickly as possible. The company, in effect, has gone into panic mode.

Consideration: Look at your employees and figure out how they got into their current job role. Was it a referral? LinkedIn? Glassdoor? That is the recruiting source you should be investing in.

Do you have a recruiting checklist?

Going through a checklist prior to making a hire is a critical component of recruiting. Your checklist should include:

  • Creating a complete organizational chart with roles, responsibilities, and more.
  • A clear understanding of the responsibilities and expectations of the open position.
  • Researching the average salary for the open position.
  • Company expectations for work environment – hybrid, virtual, etc.
  • A defined selection process.
  • And more.

Click here to view Rekroot’s checklist.

Choose DuPage provides industry-sector reports that include relevant workforce information including average salaries. To request a report, click here.  

For more information about DuPage County’s workforce ecosystem, and the resources available for employers, click here.

“The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it.”

Jim Collins (Good to Great)

About Rekroot

Rekroot is your recruiting partner, offering extensive consulting and coaching or providing you with a steady stream of qualified candidates so that you make the best and strongest hiring selections for your growing financial services business.

New ComEd Substation Brings Science to Life at Argonne National Laboratory

To provide the reliable energy required to power groundbreaking discoveries in energy, transportation and medical treatments, ComEd has completed a new substation at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory to support the lab’s new Aurora exascale supercomputer—one of the nation’s most advanced computers with the ability to seamlessly integrate data analysis, simulations, modeling and artificial intelligence.

The 138-kilovolt substation is the latest collaboration between ComEd and Argonne to ensure reliable energy for campus’ critical research. This is the third substation ComEd has deployed for Argonne’s Lemont campus.

“At ComEd, we are committed to building the electric infrastructure necessary for the advancement of science and the development of breakthrough technologies,” said Gil Quiniones, ComEd CEO. “Argonne’s work is critical for driving groundbreaking research, and we’re proud to power this innovative technology that holds the promise to change the world.”

Argonne is home to six additional national user facilities used by thousands of scientists from around the world each year. These unique research centers include world-leading computing capabilities and an X-ray microscope that is larger than Wrigley Field and 10 billion times brighter than medical X-rays.

“Argonne’s partnership with ComEd enables our team to use the new Aurora exascale supercomputer to conduct some of the most groundbreaking research in the world to drive innovation and support critical infrastructure,” said Argonne Director Paul Kearns. “Our shared mission will help improve the quality of life for millions of people around the world through our steps to tackle health research and identifying ways to ensure reliable, sustainable energy for our surrounding communities.”

This year, ComEd delivered its most reliable service on record and was recognized for being the most resilient utility in the country. Since starting smart grid investments in 2012, ComEd has avoided more than 19 million customer interruptions due in part to smart grid and system improvements. These investments have helped save customers more than $3.1 billion in avoided outages and many millions more through efficiencies created by technologies like smart meters and distribution automation.

This latest project builds on the strong collaboration between ComEd and Argonne. Earlier this year, ComEd and Argonne released the first phase of a comprehensive Climate Risk and Adaption Study as part of ComEd’s long-term effort to understand the impacts of climate change to the power grid and operations and begin to devise strategies to adapt in northern Illinois. This is the first study of its kind in the region.

Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership

Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership Drives Regional Economic Development Collaboration

DuPage County has joined together with Cook, Kane, Kendall, McHenry, Lake, and Will Counties and the City of Chicago in an innovative partnership to drive economic growth and advance equity across the region. The Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership will focus on promoting the region’s assets – including extensive freight infrastructure, diverse talent, strong exporting industries, world-class research institutions, and culture to develop an identity that can compete on a global scale.

World Business Chicago manages the Partnership, and Greg Bedalov, President & CEO of Choose DuPage will serve as Chair of the Board of Directors.

“The Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership is one of the largest advancements in our collective economic history,” said Greg Bedalov. “Thank you to the many private- and public-sector leaders that have long advocated in favor of regional collaboration. As President & CEO of Choose DuPage, I’ve always said that a strong region is what’s best for a strong DuPage. I look forward to the opportunities this partnership will bring to all our communities and will continue to share updates on our progress.”

The Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership Statement of Collaboration

We acknowledge that our northeastern Illinois region — including Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties as well as the city of Chicago — is interconnected and interdependent. We believe that the region can achieve more to strengthen jobs and capital investment by working together than any one community can on its own. We know that the region’s extensive assets offer significant opportunities to provide shared prosperity across different and diverse communities. And we recognize that joint action can ensure robust, equitable economic growth by building a globally competitive ecosystem that works for everyone, with world-class transportation infrastructure, economic sectors, talent, and innovation.

Wishing to enter a new era of regional cooperation, we join together to make the following commitments, with the goal of facilitating activities that better take advantage of our shared opportunities and complement our unique interests:

  • As a forum for local government leadership, we will engage corporate, civic, and institutional partners to leverage our combined strengths and implement approved joint plans for the benefit of the region.
  • We will enlist federal and state governments to play key roles as partners and funders of regional initiatives in coordination with existing agencies and activities.
  • We will improve our inter-jurisdictional and inter-agency communication to share all information as is necessary and prudent to create efficient and effective opportunities for collaboration.
  • We will develop methods and resources for deliberate action that advances the region, with an emphasis on the needs of marginalized communities and the potential to enhance our global economic competitiveness.
  • We will set the highest standards of professional conduct, trust, and integrity for ourselves, our staffs, and our partners to maximize regional benefits for public expenditures.
  • We will evaluate both the overall economic progress of the entire region as well as individual communities as we measure success.
electric vehicles

Start Your Engines: Northern Illinois Emerges as an EV Powerhouse

Northern Illinois has long been a leader of science, technology and advanced manufacturing. Now, those fields are coming together to drive the region’s electric-vehicle (EV) ecosystem—a growing network of communities, manufacturers, institutions and suppliers dedicated to all things EV.  

The result is a win-win: an influx of jobs and investment for the region and an emerging powerhouse committed to building the future of sustainable technology.

Charged Up: Welcome to the EV Ecosystem

Governments and businesses around the world have committed to reducing carbon emissions and investing in more sustainable technologies. That includes Illinois, where the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act has the state on the road to 100% clean energy by 2045.

To deliver on these commitments and create a cleaner, more sustainable future, communities must reduce their reliance on fossil fuel-burning automotives. (The EPA estimates that transportation accounts for about 27% of U.S. emissions.) That means alternatives, such as EVs, must be made widely available.  

While a small portion of Americans currently drive electric vehicles, making EVs affordable and available to the majority of the country will require mass production, as well as investments in a new infrastructure to support EVs and advancements in the technologies that power them. EVs are coming, but first we must solve a massive logistical puzzle.

That’s exactly what’s happening in Illinois, where an ‘EV ecosystem’ has emerged to fuel the development and production of EVs. This ecosystem consists of six major factors:

  1. The regional supply chain, including businesses that manufacture EVs, batteries, semiconductors and other related technologies. Illinois is the fourth-largest auto employment base in the U.S., the #2 location for battery manufacturers, and #4 in number of locations that manufacture non-battery EV components.
  2. The policies that support EV-related investments, including subsidies, rebates and incentives through the Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act and the Reimagining Electric Vehicles Act. In Illinois, there are currently more than $70 million in capital funds earmarked for EV infrastructure projects.
  3. The research institutions that advance the economic and scientific development of the EV field. Two of the 17 U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories are located in the heart of Northern Illinois, DuPage County: Argonne and Fermilab. Argonne alone receives $1 billion in annual funding to advance U.S. battery research and manufacturing, as well as research into the EV-adjacent fields of semiconductors, material science, transportation systems, grid stability and security, clean energy generation, supply chain security, quantum computing and AI.
  4. The diverse talent pipeline that makes all of this possible. Home to some of the nation’s top engineering and IT and computer-science schools, Illinois’ EV workforce is projected to increase by 83% by 2024.
  5. A central location that enables mass distribution of EV products across North America. Northern Illinois is located in the middle of one of the world’s most connected rail networks and is home to several international airports and a robust system of navigable waterways.
  6. Strong local demand for EVs. Illinois is already home to 54,000 EV drivers and thousands of charging stations. That consumer base continues to grow as local drivers, communities and transportation organizations go electric.

On their own, each factor is critical. But it’s their unique combination that has made Northern Illinois a global hub for the EV industry, and businesses are taking notice.

Bumper to Bumper

While the rise of Illinois’ EV ecosystem can be traced to the region’s rich history of automotive production, the industry shifted into overdrive with the arrival of EV manufacturer Rivian.

In 2016, Rivian’s leadership team visited a shuttered Mitsubishi factory in Normal, Illinois. They were there to purchase equipment. However, once they arrived in Illinois and took stock of the region’s workforce and pro-business policies, they changed course and purchased the plant. With backing from investors including Amazon, Ford and Cox Automotive, Rivian expanded their Illinois operations and went public in November 2021. Today, the company employs 3,700 workers and is one of the world’s biggest EV producers.

Attracting Rivian was itself a big win for the Illinois EV industry, but it was only the beginning.   

In 2021, as Rivian’s first electric truck rolled off the assembly line, Canadian manufacturer Lion Electric Company announced that it had selected Joliet in Will County, Illinois as the site of its U.S. manufacturing facility. When production begins in late 2022, Lion’s 900,000-square-foot facility will produce up to 20,000 zero-emission buses and trucks each year.

These vehicles will be essential to helping communities across the country decarbonize transportation systems. Their production, meanwhile, will bring more than 1,400 jobs and over $130 million to Joliet.

Next in line was Merkur, a manufacturing performance and product-development firm. They opened a new office in DuPage County, Illinois to be closer to Lion and the regional EV ecosystem.

“We want to be where our customers are; it’s as simple as that,” said Jonathan Levesque, Director of Business Development and USA Market at Merkur.

“Northern Illinois has several key advantages for us. It’s a major hub for the industries we serve: transportation, manufacturing, aeronautics and agri-food. Plus, its central location and international airports make it easy for us to reach clients and suppliers across the country and around the world. When our client Lion moved here, it was an easy decision to open an office in Downers Grove.”

“What I love about this story is that it shows how attracting the right business brings more businesses,” said Doug Pryor, President & CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development.

“First there was Rivian, then Lion, then Merkur. Now, we have more companies in EV and related sectors looking to invest. It’s all because of regional collaboration; working together, we made a strong cluster to support future economic growth. We created the conditions that allow these businesses to thrive.”

Fueling the Movement

A short drive from Merkur and Lion – you could easily visit all three on a single charge – is Argonne National Laboratory. One of 17 U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories (and one of two in DuPage County), Argonne is approaching the challenge of building an EV infrastructure on multiple fronts.

The first is economic. There are currently about 52,000 public charging stations across the U.S. That might sound impressive, but to meet growing demand and facilitate the widespread use of EVs, the country must build hundreds of thousands more.

The good news is that there is a large pool of federal funding – $5 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – marked for new charging stations. However, to access this funding, states must first demonstrate the potential economic benefits of new stations.

Identifying and gathering the right data can be difficult. That’s why scientists at Argonne developed a free online tool (JOBS EVSE) to help states estimate the economic impact of charging stations. Using the tool, state representatives and others can determine the cost of installing and maintaining new stations. They can compare that cost to the total value in sales that the stations are projected to generate, as well as the estimated number of jobs that will be produced during construction and management.

The Consumer Angle

While Argonne is helping states access funding to build charging stations, they are also working to help electric vehicle drivers of the future spend less time at the (electric) pump.

Currently, a pit stop at a charging station can take 30 minutes or more, much longer than it takes to pump gas. Scientists at Argonne are working to narrow that gap. In partnership with several other national laboratories, they are developing batteries and charging technologies designed to speed-up recharging to 15 minutes or less, while enabling batteries to hold higher densities of energy for longer charges.

Faster charging and longer battery life are more than just convenient. Shorter lines at the pumps enable widespread adoption of EVs, while faster charging makes electric trucks more feasible for the fast-moving supply chain.

“I think it’s fair to say that every car company views fast charging as the ‘killer app,’” said Venkat Srinivasan, director of the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science (ACCESS) in a recent post on Argonne’s website. “We are reaching a stage where electric cars and trucks must charge fast — it’s not a nice-to-have.”

Meanwhile, another DuPage County organization, ComEd, is also approaching the EV challenge from a consumer angle. Buying an electric vehicle for the first time can be intimidating. To make the process more approachable, ComEd recently released the EV Toolkit, a digital resource that provides helpful information on savings, benefits and incentives for consumers purchasing EVs, as well as an overview of EV brands and models, rate options and charging locations.

“Mass consumer education is critical,” said Jennifer Morand, Co-President of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association in a ComEd press release. “The EV customers of yesterday can’t be compared to today’s EV buyer, which is why resources like ComEd’s EV Toolkit are pivotal for this next phase of EV adoption.”

Supercharged: The Future of EVs in Northern Illinois

Give it a few years, and you could be riding a bus manufactured by Lion Electric in Joliet, produced under the guidance of Merkur in Downers Grove, powered by a battery using technology developed at Argonne, and built using parts sourced from suppliers across the region.

That’s the vision of Northern Illinois’ EV ecosystem: to create a diverse and comprehensive regional supply chain, where producers can source nearly all of their supplies locally. For the region, that would mean more jobs and a more stable and efficient supply chain, while generating tax revenue for local communities.  

While the Northern Illinois EV ecosystem has already begun to achieve this vision, there is still room to grow.

In particular, there is a high demand for regional producers of batteries and semiconductors. Today, batteries, the most valuable component of electric vehicles, are almost exclusively produced in China, Japan and Korea. (For comparison: in 2020, China had 93 battery-producing mega-factories. The U.S. had four.) Semiconductors, another essential component, are also widely produced overseas.

As a result, domestic EV manufacturers often must source essential components from overseas operations. As the global supply chain has become increasingly volatile, there have been numerous production delays, shortages and rising material costs.

Local, state and national governments are working to change that. New federal programs like CHIPS and the Science Bill offer semiconductor producers billions in subsidies to invest stateside. Meanwhile, Illinois is targeting battery and chip manufacturers through aggressive incentive programs, while communities across Northern Illinois continue to draw investors from across the supply chain to the region’s emerging electric vehicle ecosystem.

“Whether you’re making the vehicle itself, the battery, the chip, or the many other components that go into developing EVs and the EV infrastructure, we want you here,” said Greg Bedalov, President and CEO of Choose DuPage, the economic development organization of DuPage County.

“We have the workforce, the suppliers, the incentives and the location. Most importantly, we have the mindset. Our communities believe that sustainable technology is the key to a better future. We’re here to make it.”