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

Ball Horticultural

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

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

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


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

Gardens at Ball Horticultural Headquarters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gardens at Ball Horticultural

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

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

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

Ball Horticultural Office Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Helix Innovation Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Helix Innovation Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It all connects.”

Ball Horticultural


DuPage County, Illinois

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

Made in DuPage

Made in DuPage

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

 

Two Brothers Brewing Company

Warrenville | Craft Beer, Coffee

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

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

DuPage Craft Beer

 

Shawn Sargent Designs

Glen Ellyn | Handcrafted Home Decor & Accessories

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

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

Shawn Sargent Designs

 

nVenia

Wood Dale | Packaging Equipment

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

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

 

Proto Productions

Addison | Custom Display Cases

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

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

Proto Productions Addison

 

Show-Off, Inc.

Roselle | Custom Costumes

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

 

Flavorchem 

Downers Grove | Flavor, Color, and Ingredient Solutions

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

Flavorchem Downers Grove

 

MedGyn

Addison | Medical Products, Devices, and Technologies

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

MedGyn DuPage

 

Ball Horticultural Company

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

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

<Ball Horticultural Company DuPage County

 

Pioneer Services Inc.

Addison | Precision Parts

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

Pioneer Services DuPage County

 

Greenleaf Foods, SPC

Elmhurst | Plant-Based Foods

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

Greenleaf Foods DuPage County

 

Molex

Lisle, Naperville | Connectivity Solutions Provider

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

Molex DuPage County

 

Fusion OEM

Burr Ridge | Integrated Robot Solutions

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

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

Fusion OEM DuPage County

 

IP Automation 

Downers Grove | Automation and Wire Fabrication Machinery

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

IP Automation DuPage County

 

Antunes

Carol Stream | Custom Food Service & Water Treatment Solutions

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

Antunes Carol Stream Facility DuPage County

 

Victor Envelope Company

Bensenville | Commercial Printing

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

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

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

Victor Envelope DuPage County

 

Ferrara

Itasca & Bolingbrook | Sweet Treats

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

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

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

For more information visit:  www.ferrarausa.com

 

Packaging Personified

Carol Stream | Flexible Packaging Manufacturer

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

For more stories like this, follow Choose DuPage and workNet DuPage on social media. 

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Moving your business? Take a closer look at DuPage County

Business Relocation

DuPage County, Illinois is one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States. And if you’re searching for business relocation sites or a new business location, this thriving, diverse community should be at the top of your list.

Located just west of Chicago, DuPage County is comprised of 39 municipalities across 336 square miles. The region, which has grown significantly since a surge in the technology sector in the 1980s, is home to nearly one million residents, as well as more than 595,000 jobs and 90,000 businesses.

Although DuPage has its roots in manufacturing, the region’s modern economy is characterized by its diversity. Today, DuPage is a global hotspot for sectors like professional, scientific and technical services; transportation, logistics and warehousing; and healthcare. However, no industry represents more than 10% of the County’s GDP.

What draws businesses to DuPage County? You could say it’s the transportation infrastructure, or the diverse economy, or the low taxes, or the high quality of life. But none of those paints the full picture. In reality, businesses are drawn to DuPage because it offers the right blend of strategic advantages that, when combined, create the conditions where good businesses thrive.

Let’s take a quick look at some of DuPage County’s strategic advantages:

Access to anywhere in the world (or right next door) with a robust transportation network

business opportunities

When searching for a new business site, we recommend starting by researching a location’s access to a transportation infrastructure. Whether your business needs to move product or you simply want clients, leadership and employees to be able to easily reach your site, access to transportation is one of the key benefits a region can offer.

Just 20 miles west of Chicago, DuPage County is located at the heart of one of the world’s largest freight gateways, offering businesses access to multiple modes of transportation, including:

  • Three international airports: O’Hare, Midway and DuPage. O’Hare alone is responsible for moving nearly one third of the United States’ total cargo, valued at $170 billion.
  • Seven major interstates.
  • Twenty-eight of the top 30 cities in the Midwest within an eight-hour drive.
  • The nation’s busiest rail gateway.
  • Close proximity to North America’s largest inland port.
  • One hundred twenty-seven square miles of prime real estate that will soon offer direct access to O’Hare through the region’s Western Access initiative.

A collaborative, business-friendly environment

In DuPage, public- and private-sector leaders work together to enact smart, pro-business legislation, keep property taxes low, foster new business opportunities, and build, maintain and promote the advantages that make our region a premier choice for businesses from a wide range of industries.

Start-ups and other small businesses can find additional support through Innovation DuPage, an incubator program that provides workshops, networking opportunities, tech resources, and more.

To learn more about DuPage County’s business climate, download an up-to-date economic indicators report here.

A high quality of life that helps businesses attract and retain talented workers

moving your business

DuPage County helps businesses meet their workforce goals by providing an exceptional environment for people to live and work. The area features amenities for families and young professionals alike, with safe neighborhoods, excellent schools, low crime rates, and a thriving arts and culture scene. (In fact, over the last 10 years, the region has seen a 20% increase in the number of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments.)

Here, opportunities to connect with nature are always right around the corner, with more than 60 forest preserves featuring 25,000 acres of land. For cyclists, hikers and runners, the 55-mile Illinois Prairie Path offers a beautiful way to experience DuPage and surrounding counties.

DuPage is also home to a zoo, several botanical gardens, and numerous museums. Some of the most popular sites include Naper Settlement (a 12-acre recreation of a 19th-century village) and Morton Arboretum (a 17,000-acre “tree museum” that celebrates nature alongside stunning works of art).

For families, education is front and center. The 43 public school districts within DuPage regularly win School Search and Bright Red Apple awards, boasting a 93% graduation rate. Forty-five percent of residents going on to attain a bachelor’s degree or higher.

A highly educated and skilled workforce—both within the community and right next door

Moving your business

DuPage is home to a highly educated and skilled workforce. Here, one in four adult residents have a graduate degree, giving the region the highest educational attainment in Illinois. Within DuPage, 51% of residents over 25 have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, 93% have a high-school degree or higher, and 20% have a postgraduate degree.

DuPage businesses can also draw from a huge talent pool right next door. Chicago has a vast network of skilled professionals, and the area’s robust public transportation network – which includes PACE, the 7th largest bus service in North America, as well as the Metra train system, which has 495 miles of rail and 23 stops in DuPage – makes for an easy commute.

A diverse and resilient economy

Like a good investment portfolio, DuPage isn’t dominated by any one business or industry. Instead, the region is characterized by an ecosystem of businesses hailing from a wide range of industries—from aerospace and horticulture to food production and data centers.

This resiliency means that the DuPage economy isn’t contingent on the success or failure of a single business or industry.

During the early months of COVID-19, the value of this economic diversity was made especially clear. Even as several local industries were forced to hit the brakes, others continued functioning and even expanded their work, upholding the region’s economy in a way an economic monoculture couldn’t.

Access to energy that’s affordable, reliable and clean

One of the key factors a business moving to a new location should consider is the cost and reliability of local utilities—and this is another area where DuPage excels.

Businesses in DuPage benefit from highly affordable and reliable access to energy due to ComEd, which provides electric power to the region. ComEd has consistently ranked among the top 1% of energy companies in the nation because of its high reliability and low cost. ComEd’s rates are among the most competitive in the U.S.

But cost and reliability aren’t everything. To help businesses achieve their sustainability goals and reduce our region’s environmental impact, ComEd offers options that allow businesses to obtain up to 100% renewable energy. Today, due in large part to ComEd’s programs, Illinois has the sixth-lowest electricity-generated carbon emissions in the country.


Keep exploring DuPage County, Illinois

Want to learn more about DuPage County? Take a look at our list of The Top DuPage Workplaces of 2021, dive into the history of the I-88 Corridor, or learn how global industry leader Ball Horticultural is literally coloring our world from DuPage.

ComEd Receives National Recognition for Impact on Economic Development

ComEd

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

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.

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

I-88 E/W Corridor DuPage County

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

Global DuPage

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.

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.

Wynndalco Enterprises, LLC expands to a new facility in Addison

Wynndalco Enterprises, LLC, a certified DBE/MBE/SBE/BEP technology managed services firm, has recently expanded to a new facility in DuPage County at 515 E. Factory Road in Addison.

The 35,000 square-foot facility will serve as the company’s warehouse, call center and logistics headquarters, among other things. After taking possession of the building January 1, their goal is to be fully operational in Addison by May 1, 2021.

Previously, Wynndalco was operating well at its Mokena facility prior to the pandemic, but the rapid pivot to e-learning stretched its capacities as they received, prepped and delivered thousands of computers and negotiated logistics while keeping team members separated safely.

With the company’s rapid growth, Founder and CEO David Andalcio sought new business space that would afford the flexibility they needed to expand and follow new opportunities. They ultimately chose DuPage County due to its pro-business climate and expert management.

“I live in DuPage County, I serve on DuPage County-focused boards—Choose DuPage, the Emergency Telephone System, the RTA—and I believe the initiatives of DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin echo Wynndalco’s goals: To operate strongly in a business-positive, economically empowered environment; to create lasting job opportunities; and to support the county as a whole,” Andalcio explained.

Further, the Wynndalco team is committed to giving back to the communities it serves, and most recently donated numerous laptops and mobile LAN units to College of DuPage, Mooseheart Child City and School, Fenton High School, Keeneyville Elementary, and Leman Middle School, among others, with the goals of both supporting education efforts and bridging the technology gap to underserved students.

With a goal of adding 200 jobs in the coming years, Andalcio said “We’re moving over 100 jobs with us to Addison, but are also expanding with new opportunities, like our IVP products, that allow businesses and schools to get back to normal.”

The Integrated Viral Protection (IVP) Product Andalcio referred to is a biodefense indoor air protection system that provides the cleanest, viral-free, indoor air. IVP’s family of devices are proven to destroy SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as well as anthrax spores and other airborne pathogens. Click here for more information on the product.

“We are excited to welcome Wynndalco to DuPage County. David Andalcio and his team are generous supporters of our local schools and communities, while delivering innovative products that are critical to supporting safe environments and getting our businesses and organizations running again,” said Greg Bedalov, president and CEO of Choose DuPage.

For more information about Wynndalco Enterprises, LLC visit www.wynndalco.com.