ComEd

ComEd Receives National Recognition for Impact on Economic Development

Ranked in the top one percent of utilities across the United States, ComEd made infrastructure improvements that helped attract $2.7 billion in investment and create 6,400 new jobs

In recognition of ComEd’s contribution to economic growth and job creation across the northern Illinois communities it serves, Site Selection magazine named the energy company to its annual list of Top 20 utilities in economic development. Selected from more than 3,300 electric companies across the country, ComEd is among the top one percent of all utilities in attracting new businesses, jobs and investments.

In 2020, infrastructure projects designed to improve and modernize the power grid created an additional $2.7 billion in spending and 6,400 jobs. Further, ComEd’s grid investments are creating the infrastructure required to support new, job-generating industries like data centers.

“ComEd is committed to transforming more than just the power grid,” said Diana Sharpe, vice president of economic and workforce development at ComEd. “Our infrastructure improvements have been recognized for spurring much-needed investment and life-transforming jobs in the in the communities we serve.”

In recognizing the energy company, the magazine cites actions taken by ComEd that are key factors in creating jobs and attracting new businesses to Illinois, including:

  • Industry-leading reliability. Since 2012, ComEd has made investments in the grid that have helped it withstand more frequent severe weather associated with climate change and avoid more than 16 million customer interruptions by automatically rerouting power around problem areas.
  • Fleet electrification. ComEd plans to electrify 30 percent of its vehicle fleet by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030.
  • Workforce training. ComEd job training programs resulted in approximately 1,690 trainees completing the Craft Apprenticeship Program, Solar Pipeline and Multicultural programs with 25 percent securing jobs.
  • Renewable energy solutions. Through the Future Energy Jobs Act enacted in 2016, ComEd commercial and industrial customers can apply for distributed generation (DG) rebates designed to reduce up-front installation costs for renewable energy and spur renewable development. ComEd has received 180 DG rebate applications this year and paid rebates of $33.6 million. In August, the company also placed its fiftieth community solar project in service. Each project serves homeowner, renter and business subscribers who receive bill credits for their portion of the energy produced by the community solar farm.

“Illinois’ low and stable power prices, industry-leading reliability performance and clean energy solutions are critical components we leverage to drive economic growth, business development and job creation in the region,” said Paulina San Millan, vice president of business development at Illinois economic development organization Intersect Illinois. “We value the proactive, positive and prompt collaboration that ComEd’s high performing economic development team provides, and this recognition reinforces why they are such an important developmental asset and partner for Illinois.”

“We applaud Site Selection magazine’s recognition of ComEd as a top utility in economic development,” said Mark Goode, founding principal at developer Venture One Real Estate. “Venture One Real Estate values our relationship with the ComEd team and our collaborative efforts to drive investment, create jobs and grow the Illinois economy.”

This is the eighth time ComEd has been recognized as a top utility in economic development by Site Selection magazine. To read the full article, visit siteselection.com/issues/2021/sep/unstoppable-this-year-s-top-utilities.cfm

Governor Announces $250 Million Back to Business (B2B) Grant Program

As part of Illinois’ COVID-19 economic recovery program, yesterday Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) launched the $250 million Back to Business (B2B) grant program to support the continued recovery of small businesses across Illinois.

The first in a series of economic recovery programs by the administration, B2B will offer the hardest hit industries grants of $5K-$150K to help offset losses, bring back workers, and take continued steps to rebuild amid the fallout from the pandemic.

To reach the businesses most in need, DCEO will work alongside over 100 community navigators, 42 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) and other outreach partners who have relationships with their local business community. These partners stand ready to help small business prepare and apply for funding with 1-on-1, and multilingual assistance in every region of the state.

While the State announced the program this week, we are providing businesses with application information early to provide them with a jumpstart in preparing before the application formally opens on August 18, 2021.

Locate a local community navigator to help you prepare and apply.

Learn more about B2B, requirements and how to apply.

The New Normal: What that Means for a Return to the Office

Breakfast with the Chairman

DuPage County business leaders gathered on Wednesday, July 28 for an intimate, roundtable session focusing on ‘The New Normal’ and what that means as we begin returning to the office. The event was moderated by Janet Lougee, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, Vice President, Director of Interiors for Wight & Company.

Chairman Cronin opened the discussion with words of thanks for the business leaders assembled. He praised their outstanding cooperation with the DuPage County Health Department and noted the efforts to re-open safely and encourage safe public health practices within their companies.

Following Chairman Cronin, Janet led a presentation and discussion about Wight & Company’s experiences working with corporate clients. She outlined various options for the “new” office environment and a return to the office.

photo

Where is the workplace now?

Back in 2018, workplaces were being designed to attract and retain talent. The workplace experience was focused on collaboration and offered choices as to where you could work (i.e., private office, café, hoteling space, etc.) But while mobility in the office was up, being able to work outside the office, remained flat.

In 2020, there was a shift to balancing work modes – offices need spaces to receive and greet guests, collaborate with one another, focus on individual work, rejuvenate to recharge mentally, and socialize with one another. Additionally, the quality of the environment, things like light and air quality, and other sustainable features came to the forefront as valued elements in the workspace.

While many of these trends will remain, the following are the critical topics of workplaces today:

  • Hybrid occupancy
  • Technology
  • Safety and wellness
  • Culture
  • User experience
  • Inclusion and fairness
  • Co-working or “hub & spoke” models as real estate alternatives

What does the data say?

According to Leesman, a UK consulting firm that specializes in benchmarking employee experiences in the workplace, employees rate things like confidential discussions, video conferences and phone calls to be better at home. Better at the office are things like hosting clients, learning from others, using special equipment and informal social interaction, though none seem to outrank the work from home activities. The study goes on to say that 75% of work-from-home employees are highly satisfied.

According to a research and consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, employees want the option to work from home and estimate that 25-30% of the workforce will work remotely by 2021. In a survey conducted by Owl Labs, 92% of people expect to work from home at least one day per week. Other survey findings indicate that more than a third of respondents said they would quit if asked to work in the office 100%.

How is it going?

After presenting the data, and sharing some of the perspectives from large employers, Janet asked several questions to gauge the practices among people in the room:

  • Do you think your company will embrace a hybrid work model permanently?
    Nearly every hand in the room was raised.

  • How many of you have gone back to the office?
    Nearly every hand in the room was raised.

  • How many of you feel your program is working?
    50% of the room raised their hand.

  • How many of you have embraced a slow re-entry into the workplace (i.e., the first month, return one day a week, second month, return two days a week, etc….)?
    A small percentage of hands raised.

  • How many have implemented mandatory days (i.e., three days in the office, set days)?
    Nearly 50% of the room raised their hand.

  • How many have implemented a return policy by job function (i.e., non-essential vs. essential workers having different plans)?
    Nearly 50% of the room raised their hand.

Ultimately, Janet stressed that the time to act is now. The office must remain a dynamic and viable space for the experience of our people. The “new normal” workplace strategies encourage a balance between remote and in-place workers.

“Think of it as a chance to transform, be creative, solve problems that existed before and spring forward with new, continuously improved processes and spaces,” said Janet.

State and Local Economic Development Organizations Attract Global Investment at 2021 SelectUSA Summit

The State of Illinois announced that a delegation from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Intersect Illinois and 17 economic development partners will represent Illinois at the 2021 virtual SelectUSA Investment Summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce. These “Team Illinois” representatives will meet with global companies attending the summit, running from June 7-11, to highlight the state’s advantages for foreign direct investment (FDI).

Team Illinois aims to facilitate job-creating investment by recruiting global companies to the state. An estimated 3,000 attendees from over 75 countries will be present at this year’s summit, offering the State and its partners an ideal opportunity to network with companies and create new pathways to investment opportunities.

“Illinois continues to be a leader in attracting international company investments, thanks to our talented workforce, diverse and growing economy, and the ingenuity and innovation of businesses that call our state home,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “FDI is crucial to our local economy, with over 2,000 foreign based companies propelling hundreds of thousands of jobs for communities across the state and making Illinois a leader in FDI employment. In spite of the pandemic, we’ve welcomed hundreds of new FDI investments in the past year, and we continue to support our global partners with making investments here. On behalf of Team Illinois, we are proud to participate in this year’s Summit and to help more global companies build a bright future here.”

The 8th annual SelectUSA Investment Summit will convene Governors and state delegations from across the country, to promote the United States as the world’s premier investment destination, connecting qualified foreign firms with U.S. economic development organizations (EDOs) to facilitate business investment and job creation. This year’s summit includes a keynote address from President Biden, and remarks from U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

While the SelectUSA Summit did not occur in 2020 due to the pandemic during the last Summit held in Washington D.C. in 2019, the Illinois delegation participated in over 175 meetings with foreign companies interested in investing in Illinois.

“The SelectUSA Investment Summit has served as the launch pad for so many successful partnerships, Illinois included,” said Secretary Raimondo. “For nine years in a row, the U.S. has been ranked number one for foreign business investment. We thank Governor Pritzker for his participation, and look forward to welcoming the Illinois delegation.”

Team Illinois partners attending this year’s summit include:

  • Illinois Office of Trade and Investment
  • Intersect Illinois
  • Alliance STL
  • Ameren
  • Bloomington-Normal EDC
  • Champaign County EDC
  • Chicago Southland EDC
  • Choose DuPage
  • ComEd
  • Economic Development Corporation of Decatur- Macon County
  • Greater Peoria EDC
  • Growth Dimensions (Belvidere-Boone County)
  • Invest Aurora
  • Lake County Partners
  • Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois
  • North Central Illinois EDC
  • Quad Cities Chamber
  • Rockford Area EDC
  • Will County Center for Economic Development

“Under Governor Pritzker’s leadership, and despite the pandemic, foreign-based companies continue to choose Illinois for growth and expansion plans due to our significant advantages,” said Margo Markopoulos, Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Office of Trade and Investment. “With expert staff here and on the ground in six countries, we guide companies to successfully invest in Illinois, and then provide ongoing, coordinated support to help them continue to grow and flourish.”

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is crucial to the state’s economy, with over 2,000 foreign based companies representing over 74 countries directly supporting over 375,000 jobs. This makes Illinois the 5th in the nation for FDI employment. Last year alone, Illinois welcomed 329 new investments, powering major projects in the fields of software and IT services, business and financial services, and industrial equipment, among others. Illinois’ sprawling global presence includes strong relationships with top FDI countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Canada, and France.

Delegates will promote a wide variety of Illinois communities for business investment, while highlighting the state’s assets including its modern transportation infrastructure, talented and diverse workforce, easy access to key suppliers, markets and customers, as well as its supportive business climate and vibrant geography.

“SelectUSA is one of the highest profile events dedicated to foreign direct investment in the United States, a powerful and effective way for us to show global companies all that Illinois has to offer,” said Alya Adamany Woods, acting CEO and COO of Intersect Illinois. “By bringing together Team Illinois, we are showcasing the diverse industries and communities that make Illinois unique and what makes the state an ideal location for a wide variety of investment.”

On June 10, Governor Pritzker will host a fireside chat at the Summit, joined by CEO of InnovaFeed, the French agriculture technology company that announced plans to locate its U.S. operations in Illinois last year. For updates, follow #SelectUSASummit #TeamIllinois and @SelectUSA. Learn more about the Investment Summit at www.selectusasummit.us

I-88 E/W Corridor DuPage County

Not Your Father’s Corridor: The Re-Reinvention of the I-88 Region

Decades ago, businesses and communities along I-88 reinvented the region as the Illinois Technology and Research Corridor. Now, new trends are once again transforming the area.

If you took a time machine back to the early 1960s, you probably wouldn’t recognize the I-88 E/W Corridor, the region that follows Interstate 88 through DuPage, Kane and DeKalb counties.

Today, the corridor is a busy economic center, home to the headquarters and regional offices of businesses representing a diverse range of industries—from aerospace and healthcare to transportation and manufacturing—as well as scientific institutions, colleges and universities.

It’s also a magnet for top talent. Communities within the region are known for their high quality of life, with excellent public schools, beautiful parks and trails, good neighborhoods and medical centers, as well as abundant shopping, dining and entertainment attractions. Thanks to its mix of high living standards, business-friendly climate and strategic location, the I-88 Corridor continues to attract and retain a diverse range of businesses and talented people.

But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, before the early 1960s, the corridor was hardly on the map.

At the time, there were certainly communities growing along I-88, but the scale of the region’s economy was much smaller and less diverse than it is today. It wasn’t the kind of place you would expect to find, say, a global tech company.

Since then, the I-88 Corridor has seen two major reinventions—first emerging as a leader of the tech boom in the 1980s and 1990s, and later evolving into a more diverse, dynamic economy.

To understand why the I-88 Corridor is undergoing its current evolution and where it might be heading in the near future, let’s take a quick look back at the people, the businesses and the phenomena that shaped the region’s economic history.

The first reinvention: 1960s-1990s

Nicor I-88 DuPage County

The I-88 Corridor began to change in 1963, when Northern Illinois Gas—now known as Nicor— moved to its current location in Naperville, just off Interstate 88. It was one of the first and largest technology companies to arrive in the area.

But that was just the beginning. Over the next four decades, from the 1960s through the 1990s, a tidal wave of major technology companies and research institutions moved to the region.

In 1966, AT&T Indian Hill Bell Labs—which later became Lucent Technologies—opened an R&D facility on a 200-acre site off Naperville & Warrenville roads, hosting 700 employees. This was followed by Fermilab, the National Accelerator Laboratory, which opened in Batavia in 1967; Amoco, an R&D-focused branch of Standard Oil Co., which moved to Naperville in 1969; and Nalco Chemical Company, a water-treatment purification business now owned by EcoLab, which opened its international headquarters in Naperville in 1986.

As these businesses and institutions arrived, they, along with the communities that hosted them, created a powerful economic ecosystem along the I-88 Corridor. Along with the towering corporate campuses came new shops, restaurants, parks, hospitals, schools and neighborhoods, serving the workforce and their families. Local investment increased. Businesses recruited talent from nearby colleges and universities, as well as from nations on the other side of the world. This created a positive feedback loop: as more talent moved in, the corridor became increasingly attractive to the rising tech industry; as more tech companies moved in and the local amenities improved, the region became increasingly attractive to talent.

Communities and companies competed—and often collaborated—to promote growth within the region. In 1982, an innovative public-private alliance formed, composed of more than 80 technology companies, national laboratories, and businesses in related industries, as well as colleges and universities. Together, they advocated for business-friendly policies—as well as infrastructure improvements, such as access to high-speed internet—that benefited companies within the area.

“One issue we worked on was the impact fees (payments meant to offset the cost of public services) the counties were imposing on developers,” says Ron Lunt, Partner at Hamilton Partners and a member of the corridor group. “When local governments did approve them, they were at a lower level than they would have been, if we hadn’t advocated for businesses.”

For decades, businesses and communities worked together to reinvent the I-88 Corridor as a global hub for research and technology, the midwestern equivalent of Silicon Valley. And they largely succeeded, attracting the corporate headquarters and regional centers of many Fortune 1000 companies.

Unfortunately, the industry on which they had built their economy was about to come crashing down.

The bubble bursts

The dot-com bubble (or tech bubble) refers to the massive inflation of the stock market in the 1990s. Investors bet big on hot internet-related businesses, and the market’s value skyrocketed.

In 2000, the bubble burst, sending the stock market into free fall. This devastated the tech industry and nearly toppled industry giants like Cisco and Amazon. It was immediately followed by the telecoms crash, which brought down many more telecommunications companies, including some of the businesses along the I-88 Corridor.  

Today, most people no longer refer to the I-88 region as the Illinois Research and Technology Corridor. In part, that’s because many of the companies that earned the region its nickname left the area following the burst of the dotcom bubble and the telecom crash (and more left following the Great Recession in 2008).

One of those companies was Lucent Technologies, one of the corridor’s premier tenants. When the bubble burst, Nokia absorbed the company and pulled Lucent out of Naperville, abandoning a two-building, 175-acre campus.

The re-reinvention: 2000s-present day

I-88 E/W Corridor DuPage

Another reason why the label “Research and Technology Corridor” is no longer relevant is because, over the last two decades, the region’s economy has undergone drastic changes.

“In the ‘90s, we were too heavily reliant on tech,” said Christine Jeffries, President of the Naperville Development Partnership, in an interview with Bisnow. “After that we made it a point to diversify.”

“Prior to the bubble, this region was widely promoted to the rising technology industry,” said Jim Adler, Executive Vice President of NAI Hiffman. “However, when the bubble burst, a lot of those technology buildings turned over and were released and rebranded to other users.”

What was once a region narrowly focused on a single booming industry has, over the last two decades, greatly diversified its economic makeup. There are still many research institutions and technology companies in the area, but today’s I-88 Corridor hosts a much wider range of industries, with an emphasis on niches like aerospace, healthcare, transportation and manufacturing.

Many of these companies are now claiming the spaces vacated by giant tech businesses in the 2000s—as well as tenants like OfficeMax, Motorola Solutions and McDonald’s, which left in the 2010s—transforming these giant single-user spaces into multi-tenant, mixed-use campuses. The new spaces are designed to serve a wider variety of users and feature on-campus and nearby amenities that appeal to today’s workforce. What was once only possible in the city—working in a space where community parks and high-end restaurants are right outside the office—is increasingly the norm in the suburbs.

One example is The Shuman in Naperville. Originally built for AT&T in 1987, the 350,000 SF facility became OfficeMax’s headquarters following the telecoms crash. In 2014, OfficeMax left, and the building was later purchased by Franklin Partners. Now, The Shuman has been redesigned as a sleek, multi-tenant space. A far cry from the corporate buildings of the 1980s, the redesigned facility features open collaboration spaces, an in-house barista bar, a restaurant that offers a rotating selection from Chicagoland restaurants, and other amenities you would normally expect to find in a Class-A downtown high-rise.

“Now on its third life, The Shuman’s a great example of what’s happening to many buildings in the I-88 Corridor,” Adler said. “Every company is thinking about how they can position their building to attract the sophisticated, young employee. And it’s all about amenities.

“We’re seeing investments in common spaces like we’ve never seen before. Some buildings, like the Commerce Plaza in Oak Brook, are investing in outdoor workspaces. Since the pandemic, those are the buildings that are thriving.”

Not your father’s corridor

It’s hard to put a catchy label on today’s I-88 Corridor.

The old label—the Illinois Technology and Research Corridor—doesn’t quite fit. Yes, the region is still home to some of today’s leading technology companies and research institutions, but it’s more complicated than that.

For one, there’s no longer The Tech Industry, not like there was in the 1980s. The lines have blurred. Today, healthcare is a tech industry. Food is a tech industry. Logistics, transportation, communications—they’re all tech industries. When you consider how digital technology has transformed—and been transformed by—nearly every industry, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t work in tech.

The technology companies of today represent a far wider set of industries and sub-industries, disciplines and skillsets, than the narrow field of the 1980s. And that broad spectrum of sectors forms the economic basis of the region today.

“Historically, the I-88 Corridor focused on attracting the tech industry,” Adler said. “Today, technology is inherent to every business. So we still want to attract tech, but it’s tech talent that’s working for businesses like Greenleaf Foods, Hub Group, and Rush Copley, across all kinds of industries.”

Just take a look at some of the most recent projects in the I-88 Corridor. In February 2021, STRATACACHE—a company that makes digital signage, intelligent displays and sensors—announced a 100,000-square-foot facility in Lisle, which will house their research and support teams. Greenleaf Foods, SPC, the maker of plant-based foods, is housing their new innovation center at a 23,000-square-foot facility in Lisle. viaPHOTON, a fiber-optics manufacturer, is bringing 200 jobs to Aurora, while XPO Logistics—a top-ten global logistics provider—is leasing a 50,000-square-foot space at The Shuman. This is the new economy, and you can see why it’s hard to define in one or two words.

By its nature, today’s I-88 Corridor shakes off most labels you throw at it. It’s a region that’s defined by change: Its economy is diverse and dynamic, its businesses are at the cutting edge of their respective industries, its national laboratories (Argonne and Fermilab) are leading the world in research on topics ranging from infectious diseases and supercomputing to the origins of the universe. Even the local culture is undergoing a major reinvention, as the sprawling suburban office campuses of the past become lively hubs for a mix of business, life, art and entertainment.

This isn’t the I-88 Corridor of the 1960s, the 1980s, or even the 2000s—this is a place where diversity forms the basis of a more resilient economy, continual change is a way of life, and innovation is in the DNA of every business, household and main street.

Take a look at today’s I-88 Corridor, and you’ll find a place that’s no longer just a hub for one or two industries. And that’s a good thing. It’s so much more.

Global DuPage

Global DuPage: A Palestinian family saved to put their son through college. Years later, he returned the favor.

Today, we’re telling another story of a family that immigrated to the U.S. and built a legacy in DuPage County: the Elshafeis. It’s a story of love, war, business—and baklava.

Born in Palestine in 1962, Alan Elshafei (formally, Alaeddine Elshafei) understood the importance of family from an early age. He was the youngest of ten children, and his family largely relied on their small business—a sweet shop—to make ends meet.

When Alan’s siblings were still young, there was a rising tide of violence in Palestine, and the Elshafeis were forced to migrate. They settled in Lebanon, where Alan was born, and continued to run their pastry business out of a new location.

While Alan’s older siblings would have liked to pursue higher education, they recognized that their opportunities were limited. Instead, they decided to make a sacrifice: They put their energy into the family business, saving money to help their youngest brother attend college abroad.

It worked. When he was eighteen, Alan’s family had saved enough to send him to school in the United States. Despite struggling to learn English—at the time, Arabic and French were Lebanon’s primary languages—while also focusing on his studies, Alan earned a degree in electrical engineering.

Global DuPage

Later, Alan met a young woman, Nancie, and the pair moved to Chicago, where they married in 1983. Soon after, they launched a successful battery-manufacturing company—with Nancie as Chief Financial Officer—and moved to Lisle, where they continued to grow their family and their business. Ramsey Elshafei, Alan’s son, believes that his father’s struggles and work ethic early in life contributed to his later success.  

“My father’s family had a hard time in the middle east,” Ramsey says. “All the families who migrated from Palestine to Lebanon had to uproot their lives. I think that struggle is the reason why my dad was so successful when he came here. He had the work ethic and the drive.”

Inspired by his father, Ramsey went on to study engineering and build his own business. Today, he’s the president of RE Development Solutions, Inc. and a board member of Choose DuPage.

Ramsey Elshafei RE Development Solutions

Full circle

As their manufacturing business grew, Alan and Nancie put some resources aside—much like Alan’s siblings had done years before, to support his college education—and helped several of his brothers move their families from the Middle East to the U.S.

As Alan knew first-hand, settling in a new country is hard. To help with the transition, Alan and Nancie welcomed Alan’s siblings, along with their spouses and children, into the Elshafei home in Lisle. This gave the families a place to stay until they could find work and a permanent home—sometimes, for months at a time. 

“From my mom’s perspective, it’s like, suddenly you have all these random people living in your house, and there’s a language barrier. For her to continue doing that, family after family, says a lot about who she is,” Ramsey says.

“My parents have always had open arms. That makes my wife and I think about how we want to affect future generations, how we can give back.”

Global DuPage Elshafei Sweets

As for the sweet shop? Elshafei Sweets is still open for business—although it’s no longer in the Middle East. In fact, the business is in Palos Hills, Illinois, serving baklava and other treats inspired by the family’s roots.

Thanks for reading! For another story about the legacy of immigration in DuPage, take a look at our recent feature on the Elganzouri family.

 

Located just west of Chicago, DuPage County is a diverse community in many ways: culturally, economically and demographically. We are proud of the countless immigrants and the numerous cultures that wrote the history of DuPage, and we welcome all to join us as we make a better future.

To learn more about DuPage, start here.

Steinhafels Mattress

Steinhafels Plans to Open 112,000 SF Store in Downers Grove

The Downers Grove Economic Development Corporation announced today that Wisconsin-based, employee-owned Steinhafels, Inc. plans to open a 112,000 sq. ft. furniture store at 1021 Butterfield Road in Downers Grove.  The company will be making improvements to the exterior and interior of the building.  Steinhafels expects to open the store this fall.

“We are very excited to be opening our 11th Furniture and Mattress Superstore in Downers Grove this Fall. We look forward to welcoming over 50 new associates to our company. As an employee-owned company, we know our associates are our greatest asset.” said Steinhafels president, Andrew Steinhafel.  “We look forward to providing the residents of Downers Grove and surrounding communities with the area’s finest selection of furniture and mattresses along with an unsurpassed customer experience.”

Steinhafels is a fourth-generation furniture retailer, founded in 1934. The company sells quality home furnishings, mattresses and home décor.  Steinhafels currently has sixteen stores, fourteen in Wisconsin and two in Illinois.  The company projects that the Downers Grove store will have sales of $21 million in the first year, with 3% growth in subsequent years.  On May 4, 2021 the Steinhafels family announced it had sold its shares to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), making the company 100% employee owned.

“Steinhafels is a great addition to Downers Grove, and to the Butterfield corridor” said Downers Grove Mayor Robert Barnett.  “They are an 87-year old company with a long tradition of serving their customers and the community, and we’re looking forward to welcoming the Steinhafels team to Downers Grove.”

Wood Dale, IL

In Wood Dale, economic growth is a jigsaw puzzle. Here’s how all the pieces fit into place.

For Wood Dale, the stakes were high when searching for tenants to occupy a new 342,000-square-foot development along Wood Dale Road.

Historically, logistics had been the area’s dominant sector. However, in 2018, the City of Wood Dale published its Comprehensive Plan; among other things, the plan outlined a vision to diversify the local economy, putting a greater emphasis on manufacturing and corporate usage. By focusing on a wider variety of sectors, the City aimed to bring a wider variety of benefits to the community: more jobs, more aesthetically attractive buildings, and more travel within Wood Dale, which would increase spending at local businesses and generate greater sales-tax revenue.

The new development, Bridge Point Wood Dale, was an opportunity for the City to put their plan into action. But there were some bumps along the way. Before it was redeveloped, the land had previously been a low-rise office site – it was vacant for nearly eight years – and, as anyone in real estate knows, developing an industrial property for commercial offices is anything but easy. (It’s less like a makeover, more like plastic surgery.) While many brokers were insisting it should be developed as a logistics location, the City of Wood Dale pushed for a commercial-industrial space. Eventually, they found a developer (Bridge) to bring this vision to life.

Today, Bridge Point Wood Dale consists of two commercial-industrial buildings, both in a highly visible location along a heavily traveled road, at a slightly higher elevation (by Illinois standards) than the surrounding area. When you’re driving through Wood Dale, you’re almost guaranteed to see them. Therefore, whatever tenants occupied these buildings would come to represent the community’s character and set a precedent for the future.

“Wood Dale Road is our front door,” said Ed Cage, the Community Development Director at the City of Wood Dale. “It tells everybody what we are about, as a community.”

nVenia

After several years of tough decisions, creative thinking and many, many meetings, two tenants moved into Bridge Point: Forward Space and nVenia (in 2020 and 2021, respectively). The new tenants bring a mix of corporate and manufacturing usage to Wood Dale—exactly what the City wanted.

“We aimed really high, and we got what we were looking for,” said Cage. “Actually, we got even more.”

Of course, getting a good tenant into a community is almost never easy. But Wood Dale faced a particularly puzzling series of challenges as they looked to fill this space.

The Jigsaw Puzzle

Historically, what has made Wood Dale so attractive to logistics companies—and now a blend of manufacturing and corporate users—is its strategic location.

Wood Dale sits just minutes west of O’Hare International Airport, next to Bensenville, along the I-390 corridor. I-290, I-355, Illinois Route 83 and other major highways are all nearby. This gives logistics companies (like Amazon, which has a Wood Dale facility) convenient access to multiple modes of transportation, allowing them to move goods quickly and efficiently to and from Midwest markets, and around the world.

Also, Wood Dale is in DuPage County, which has low property taxes. Cage said this is a major selling point for businesses that are considering the region.

“The number of people I’ve talked to who want to be in DuPage is huge,” he said. “As Community Development Director, that makes my job easier, because it gets people in the door.”

One of those companies is Nippon Express, a Japanese-owned logistics consulting business that integrates various modes of transportation into a one-stop solution.

For decades, Nippon was a tenant of two buildings in the northern quadrant of Wood Dale—an area that’s home to many of the community’s larger businesses—just south of Illinois Route 390.

As part of a strategy to synergize their Midwest operations, Nippon planned to grow their local presence—this included adding a corporate headquarters and relocating some 100 employees from their New York office to Wood Dale. However, the two buildings they currently occupied, which had been built in the 1980s, were out-of-date; they also didn’t offer the space that the company needed for the proposed expansion.

Nippon Express

Nippon needed a new location. Initially, they turned to Bridge Point, the new development along Wood Dale Road.

This created an interesting dilemma for the City. Nippon had been part of the community for decades, and, as a Fortune 500 business, they brought a large amount of money and jobs to the area. Obviously, the City wanted to retain them.

However, in order to relocate and expand their facility as planned, Nippon would have needed all of Bridge Point, and the City was already closing in on an agreement with another company, Forward Space, that wanted one of Bridge Point’s two buildings.

This dilemma—in which the goals of attracting new businesses and retaining existing ones sometimes appear to be at odds—represents one of Wood Dale’s greatest challenges:

Space.

Wood Dale is a “built-out” community, meaning that much of its land has been developed. Unlike some cities further away from Chicago, it doesn’t have acres of open land. This sometimes makes it tougher to evolve the community and accomplish certain goals, like those outlined in the Comprehensive Plan. They aren’t working with a blank canvas.

Instead, Cage prefers to see it as a puzzle.

“We have all these pieces of the jigsaw,” he said. “If you want to bring a new business into the community, you have to rearrange things, and you have to be careful about it.”

In order to solve the puzzle of Nippon (a business they wanted to retain) and Forward Space (a business they wanted to attract), the City found a creative solution. First, Cage and others worked to bring Nippon’s attention toward a 20-acre space along Route 83, a location that checked every box on the company’s wish list: It was close to a major highway; it offered the space they needed; and it allowed them the freedom to build their facility to their specifications.

At the time, the area was unincorporated and occupied by residential properties; so, the City partnered with a developer that bought-out the residential properties, annexed the space and even rebuilt a section of Bryn Mawr Avenue that led to the future Nippon Express location. (The road had to be updated to meet the standards of a corporate park.) The developer then built a 300,000-square-foot facility in the newly annexed space, which became Nippon’s new U.S. Corporate Headquarters and warehouse in February 2021.

Wood Dale, IL

With this solution, the City accomplished both of its goals: They retained an established Fortune 500 company while bringing in a new business (actually, two new businesses) with diverse usages.  

In Q4 of 2020, the smaller of the two Bridge Point buildings (100,378 square-feet; 650 N Wood Dale Rd) was leased to Forward Space, a commercial furniture dealer that also provides workplace planning and related services. The new Forward Space facility combined a corporate headquarters and a warehouse—right in line with Wood Dale’s diversification goal.

Forward Space

And then, in the spring of 2021, another business moved into the second, larger Bridge Point building (241,888 square-feet; 750 N Wood Dale Rd). nVenia, a new company formed by the consolidation of several Duravant entities, is a packaging equipment manufacturer and solutions provider. Their new manufacturing facility brings more than 200 jobs to the community, accomplishing additional goals of Wood Dale’s Comprehensive Plan: to bring in more workers and generate more spending at local businesses and greater sales-tax revenue.

The final piece of this economic-development puzzle is the pair of buildings that Nippon left behind along Route 390. Recently, a developer submitted a proposal to remodel both buildings, which will give the City an opportunity to attract more business.

“This is a good example of developing a built-out community in a smart way,” said Cage. “You move an existing business to another place within the community, where they can grow. Then, you develop the old site and use that space to bring in new tenants.”

With the right planning—and perhaps some serendipity—all the pieces fit into place.

A “Front-Page” Community

Logistics has been and will continue to be a major part of the Wood Dale economy. But now, as they retain and attract a wider variety of businesses, the City wants you to see their community as a prime location for corporate and manufacturing users, among others.

In addition to working the “jigsaw puzzle” that makes this evolution possible, the community is being proactive. Recently, Cage noted that the City’s restrictions on building height—buildings in Wood Dale couldn’t be taller than 37 feet, unless the developer had a variance—was limiting developers that wanted to create buildings that would attract the very kind of tenants the City wanted.

During a meeting, Cage asked the City Council to vote to raise the maximum height from 37 to 42 feet. They raised it to 45.

“That sent a message,” he said.

Over the last several years, Cage and other City officials have worked to establish closer relationships with real-estate brokers and developers, helping them understand the kind of users that Wood Dale is looking to attract. Cage said these relationships—along with the City’s proactive stance and stories of businesses like Nippon, Forward Space and nVenia—are making Wood Dale a top choice.

“Years ago, I wouldn’t say that Wood Dale was always on the front page of everyone’s list, so to speak. Now, we’ve moved up.

“It’s a combination of being in DuPage County, our City being welcome to new businesses and developments, and everyone understanding the goals of our Comprehensive Plan.

“I’d say we’re now on the front page—top of the list.”

Wood Dale is a community in DuPage County, Illinois. Just west of Chicago, DuPage offers a strategic location at the heart of an international cargo gateway, as well as a collaborative environment between the public and private sector, a culturally diverse community, beautiful parks and trails, excellent schools and responsible local governance. Learn more about DuPage’s business climate here.

DuPage County Regional Business Outlook

Forward Momentum

How can we build momentum into the future? At the 11th annual DuPage County Regional Business Outlook, local leaders and industry experts came together to share actionable insights and valuable perspectives on the evolving business climate. 

The hybrid event was held on April 28, 2021. Watch a recording of the event, below.

Speakers

Rick Bayless, Owner/Chef | Frontera Grill

Cara Esser, CFA, Senior Vice President, Director of Portfolio Management and Research, Mesirow Retirement Advisory Services | Mesirow 

Tim Stop, Songwriter/Musician

The Honorable Dan Cronin, Chairman, DuPage County Board

 

Brought to you by

Event supporters:

PowerForward DuPage

 

Global DuPage: How a Father’s Dream Shaped His Son’s Future

Some 6,400 miles of land and sea separate DuPage County from Cairo, Egypt.

For some, the distance feels even greater.

Abdel Raouf Elganzouri grew up in a small village along the Nile River, just outside Cairo. He and his family were farmers (or “peasants,” as Abdel Raouf described them) making just enough money to scrape by. His siblings, parents, cousins and other relatives all lived together in a one-room house.

“My parents came from very, very humble beginnings,” said Ahmed Elganzouri, Abdel Raouf’s son. Today, Ahmed is the Deputy General Counsel at Edward-Elmhurst Hospital and a board member of Choose DuPage.

Ahmed’s mother, who lived in an old neighborhood at the heart of Cairo, grew up in similarly cramped conditions. She had 12 siblings, so space was scarce. If you came to visit, you were lucky to find an open spot on the floor.

As a kid in Cairo—especially in the 1940s and 1950s—opportunities were more limited than most of us can imagine. The only way to improve your economic circumstances, or to leave Egypt, was to be exceptional. Being an ‘A student’ wasn’t enough; if you wanted to be a doctor, you almost certainly had to be in the ninety-ninth percentile of your class. If you were born in poverty, the odds were that you would stay in poverty.

Abdel Raouf was determined to beat the odds. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a physician and leaving Egypt—a dream that, when you only have one pair of old shoes to your name, seems about as realistic as traveling to the moon.

But Abdel Raouf knew what he had to do. He understood that, as Ahmed puts it, “The only way out of Egypt was education.” For years, he focused relentlessly on his studies.

Fast forward, and Abdel Raouf graduated at the top of his class, scoring among the best on his exams.

He did so well, in fact, that he was accepted into Cairo University’s medical school.

New School, Old Shoes

Although he had made it into higher education, Abdel Raouf’s circumstances didn’t change overnight. The economic differences between him and his classmates—many of whom came from wealthier families—couldn’t have been more obvious.

“He would always tell us these stories, so we could appreciate what it was like for him growing up,” Ahmed said. One of those stories takes place on the day Abdel Raouf was interviewed at the medical school. He needed a suit for the interview, but he didn’t have one—no one in his family did. Nor did they have enough money to afford a suit, so Abdel Raouf and his father walked through their village asking for small loans and calling in favors. Eventually, they raised enough for a decent suit.

At the university, Abdel Raouf’s classmates noticed that he dressed differently. He didn’t have nice shoes; instead, he wore an old pair with a hole in them, and his socks would be soaked every time it rained. They liked to tease him about it.

Abdel Raouf, however, wasn’t worried about shoes—he had bigger things on his mind. He was still fighting the odds.

Globe Trotter

After graduating from medical school, Abdel Raouf worked in Egypt as an anesthesiologist. In those early years of his career, he met the woman who would be his wife and Ahmed’s mother. She had been a similarly ambitious Cairo kid.

Together, they moved out of Egypt, to countries where, they hoped, their future children would have better opportunities: first Kuwait, where they had their first daughter, and then onto the UK. (There are strong historic ties between Egypt and the UK, due to the colonization of the former by the latter. Travel and immigration between the two countries is common.)

The young couple moved to Liverpool, where they welcomed another daughter into the world. Meanwhile, Abdel Raouf passed all the exams necessary to practice as a physician in England, first in Liverpool and later in London. He had come a long way from his early days on the banks of the Nile.

Around this time, it just so happened that the United States was in desperate need of physicians. The country’s healthcare system and population had grown during the post-World War II boom years, but there weren’t nearly enough American doctors to meet the demand. (This continues to be a problem in parts of the nation today.)

“There was a huge demand for foreign physicians, especially those from the Middle East and Egypt,” Ahmed said. “Many of my friends here in Chicago’s Egyptian community are physicians who studied in Egypt and made their way to the United States to meet the demand. My father was part of that exodus, at the time.”

Abdel Raouf —who had long been interested in the United States but had never actually been there—applied to several American hospitals and was accepted. Now, it was time to decide where to live. For the Elganzouris, a young family, the location came down to the best place to raise their children. After plenty of research, they settled on Oak Brook, Illinois, for its excellent schools and nearby park districts, restaurants and businesses.

That year, Dr. Abdel Raouf Elganzouri, MD, joined Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where he practiced and taught for 30 years – impacting the lives of countless patients and students – until his passing in 2018.

A Quick History of Immigration in DuPage

The story of DuPage County—like the story of many, if not all, communities—has been shaped entirely by immigrants. The first such immigrants crossed the land bridge that once connected North America to Eurasia. As they traveled further south, through land that is now Canada, the United States and Mexico, and then on to Central and South America, these immigrants formed thousands of unique communities. Distinct cultures emerged, shaped by their environment and people, each one practicing its own mix of hunting, gathering and farming. These diverse communities would eventually be commonly classified as Indigenous, First Nations, or Native Americans.

After thousands of years of relative stability, a new wave of immigrants, western Europeans, would arrive in the Americas. With guns, horses and unfamiliar germs, they would displace or wipe out the vast majority of Indigenous tribes.

During and after the arrival of the western Europeans, what is now the Chicagoland area became a major trading site for the French, British and Indigenous Americans. (It continues to be one of the most important locations for trade in North America.)

Eventually, the region became part of the United States, and another wave of European immigrants moved into the area. One of the earliest and largest groups came from Germany. They built churches (initially Protestant and Lutheran, later Catholic), as well as homes, schools and grist mills—where wheat was ground into flour—including some that are still standing today. (The Graue Mill in Oak Brook, founded in 1852, is now owned by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. It’s been converted into a public museum, which will reopen for tours in late spring 2021.)

The German, British and French were later joined by Irish and Italian immigrants. Following the Civil War, when slavery was abolished, entire communities of Black Americans moved into the North—driven by promises of new opportunities, as well as the South’s new Jim Crow laws, which further institutionalized racism and stifled the freedom, voting rights and economic opportunity of Black people. While much of the farming in the South had once been done by Black Americans, those who moved north mostly gravitated toward urban areas (largely because agricultural land was tightly controlled by White landowners).

With Black Americans, Indigenous Americans, Latino/Latina Americans, Asian Americans and European Americans, the Chicagoland region became increasingly diverse.

Over the 182 years of DuPage County history, the region’s demographic makeup has been continuously reshaped, as groups of immigrants moved into the area. Often, this immigration was spurred by the emergence of a new industry: Businesses needed a new labor force—or a labor force with a distinct skillset—beyond what the local population could provide.

For example, in the mid-nineteenth century, many Irish workers moved to the DuPage region to help dig the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which connected the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and helped establish the region as a national transportation hub (as it continues to be today). As Chicagoland became a major transporter and processor of wheat, meat and other goods, new factories, warehouses and logistics operations emerged—demanding new workforces and attracting new generations of immigrant labor.

In post-World War II America, two national laboratories opened in DuPage—Argonne in 1946; Fermilab in 1967—transforming the county into a national leader in science and technology. This also created demand for a new, highly educated workforce. As a result, scientists from many nations—many of them in Asia and the Middle East—immigrated to DuPage, filling jobs in the emerging sector.

(Ahmed’s father, as you read above, came to DuPage due to a similar phenomenon: a high demand for doctors, in that case.)

Diversity has shaped not only the rich culture of our region, but the fabric of our economy. The industries that form the economic foundation of DuPage in 2021 wouldn’t exist without the immigrant workers and their families who settled here. Our lives would look utterly different.

It’s also important to recognize the many foreign-owned businesses in DuPage County, which add jobs to our economy while investing in the region. Of the foreign-owned businesses in DuPage, the majority are owned by companies from Japan, the UK, Canada, Germany and France. One such business is Nippon Express in Wood Dale, a Japanese-owned logistics consulting business that employees hundreds of workers in DuPage.

You often hear that a strong economy is a diverse economy. That’s true. We saw this during the pandemic; while some industries were forced to temporarily close, others remained open, keeping the economy moving.

But it’s important to remember that a healthy, stable, sustainable and diverse economy is only possible with a diverse community.

Like Father, Like Son

Today, Ahmed lives in Naperville, a short drive from Oak Brook, where, years ago, his mother and father chose to raise their family. Like his father, Ahmed works for a hospital. And while he’s not a doctor—he’s an in-house attorney—he sees how his parents’ legacy has shaped much of his life: his home, his career and his children’s futures.

“I always wanted to help people,” he said. “I think there’s a similarity between that and being a physician. In both cases, you’re advising and advocating on behalf of clients. And it just so happens that I work in healthcare.

“My father’s hard work, perseverance and, quite frankly, traveling over oceans to get to America, has obviously had a big impact on myself and my siblings. That’s certainly translated into the career I pursued, and what I want to provide to my children.

“We live in DuPage because it has the things my parents wanted us to have: great schools, nature, park districts, businesses. All those things that made them move thousands of miles from Egypt have made us want to stay in this area and raise our own kids.”

Like his father, Ahmed is an excellent storyteller. He knows just about every detail of his parents’ journey from Egypt to the U.S., and he’s full of anecdotes about Abdel Raouf’s early years in Cairo and medical school.

And yet, as richly as he can recall these stories, there are times when Ahmed sees how easily things could have been different for him and his family.

He caught a glimpse of this in 2007, when he and his wife took a trip to Egypt. They were visiting an ancient site when they encountered a group of local school children. Standing beside one another, it was clear that Ahmed and these children lived vastly different lives.

“I could tell, based on the way they were dressed, that they were from humbler beginnings,” he said. Ahmed turned to one of the students and tried striking up a conversation in Arabic. The child looked at him like he had come from another planet.

“I just saw the look in his eyes. He didn’t understand how I could be dressed this way and speaking English—and then, all of a sudden, Arabic! He looked puzzled, like he didn’t understand how I fit into his world.

“And that stuck with me. Because I could have been one of those children. And I just feel blessed that my parents, against all odds—I don’t even know how they did it, frankly—gave us the life we have.

“I’m sorry… I’m getting emotional! It just hit me.”

 

Click here to watch a video interview of Ahmed sharing his family’s story.

Located just west of Chicago, DuPage County is a diverse community in many ways: culturally, economically and demographically. We are proud of the countless immigrants and the numerous cultures that wrote the history of DuPage, and we welcome all to join us as we make a better future.

To learn more about DuPage County, start here.