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.

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

Steinhafels Mattress

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.”

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

Wood Dale, IL

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.

STRATACACHE Announces New Facility in DuPage for Research, Support and New Product Development

STRATACACHE

100,000 square foot facility to focus on digital menu, mobile device and application development

DAYTON, Ohio, Feb 22, 2021 — STRATACACHE today announced the purchase of a 100,000 square foot facility in Lisle, Illinois (Chicago), which will house new research and support teams for the digital signage, intelligent display and sensor systems company. The location marks the third facility STRATACACHE has acquired in the past year, in order to support the growing global clientele of the STRATACACHE family of companies, adding several hundred highly technical jobs to the US market.

Despite a globally challenging economic environment, STRATACACHE continues to experience rapid growth in providing advanced technology solutions, such as intelligent display and sensor systems, to clients in key verticals including retail, restaurants, banking, entertainment, transportation and corporate communications. The new facility, a four-story class A building in the western Chicago suburb of Lisle, was formerly a U.S. headquarters for McCain Foods, Inc. More than a dozen large STRATACACHE customers have headquarters in Chicago, and the new location will allow for enhanced local support, as well as a fully outfitted support lab, meeting room space and X2O One Room, an immersive collaboration environment for in-person and remote participation created by X2O Media, a STRATACACHE company.

“As STRATACACHE continues to grow, we look forward to tapping the Chicago market for development and engineering talent to further our work on our new mobile platforms, our advanced tablet compute devices as well as key projects in retail self-service systems,” said Chris Riegel, STRATACACHE CEO. “We will be adding significant staff in the new STRATACACHE Chicago center over the next several months and look forward to enabling world class customer interactive solutions designed to help our customers reduce costs and improve sales in this uncertain economic time.”

STRATACACHE provides a full scope of technological solutions to help retailers, marketers and customer experience teams use intelligent digital display and sensor systems to optimize interaction and engagement with consumers and employees. The new location outside Chicago will allow STRATACACHE to recruit local technical talent and expertise to further the research, development and business development efforts of hardware and application development.

STRATACACHE acquired a 1.4 million square foot factory in Eugene, OR, in March 2020, and is equipping it as a full 300mm wafer microLED display manufacturing facility. STRATACACHE made an additional client support investment in a new 1100+ seat Network Operations and Data center in Waterloo, IA, in November 2020.

About STRATACACHE
STRATACACHE delivers in-store retail experience transformation and exceptional customer journeys through a wide array of marketing technology. Our solutions enable retailers to learn deeply about their customers’ shopping preferences and behaviors, delivering targeted promotional or task-based messaging on any digital display. With 3.3 million+ software activations globally, we power the biggest digital networks for the world’s largest brands. Across the STRATACACHE family of complementary Marketing Technology solution companies, we have the technology, expertise and track record to bring retail innovation that delivers results. Follow STRATACACHE on Twitter @STRATACACHE or on LinkedIn. Learn more about the STRATACACHE family at www.stratacache.com

State of DuPage County

Cronin

A look back with a focus on the future

The annual State of DuPage County, hosted by Chamber630 and several other west suburban chambers was held on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. The event featured a keynote address from the Honorable Dan Cronin, Chairman of the DuPage County Board. Following his address was a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges business face in 2021. Moderating the panel was Karyn Charvat of PowerForward DuPage. Ron Lunt, Hamilton Partners and Greg Bedalov from Choose DuPage also participated on the panel, along with Chairman Cronin.

Watch the event, below.

Rebuild Illinois Wet Lab Capital Program

Wet Lab

$9 million Notice of Funding Opportunity to boost development of wet labs across Illinois

Illinois is a global leader in the life sciences industry, featuring some of the top research hospitals and chemical manufacturers in the country.

Wet labs, or laboratories with specialized ventilation and utility connections to allow for research of chemicals and materials, are critical for life sciences innovation to thrive but require large amounts of physical space and are costly to build. Available wet lab space is scarce throughout Illinois, which limits the competitiveness of the state’s life sciences sector, despite our other advantages.

This grant will encourage the development of wet lab space that will be multi-tenant shared space available to incubators, corporations, university researchers, and start-ups. Grant funds will be awarded on a competitive basis to fund the construction or renovation of facilities that house wet lab space and promote the growth of life sciences in Illinois.

On November 18, 2020 at 11:00am, DCEO will be conducting a Wet Lab Capital Program Technical Assistance Webinar which you can register for here

For more information about the program, click here

For Food Industry Leaders, DuPage has all the Right Ingredients

Food Industry

Much like grandma’s famous lasagna, the right location for food processors and distributors comes down to the ingredients.

Only, in this case, it has less to do with meat sauce and mushrooms—and everything to do with transportation channels, water access, local industry expertise, and other key factors.

Located in Illinois—the #1 state for food processing, with more than $180B in annual sales—DuPage County offers a strategic location just west of Chicago, with a rich history of food science and production. Here, food producers have everything they need to grow their business, develop innovative foods, and quickly and efficiently get their products to any market.

Today, DuPage is home to many of the world’s leading food businesses, from the innovation labs of Greenleaf Foods to the “Lasagna Headquarters” of Rana Meal Solutions, as well as Pepperidge Farm, Campbell Soup, Nestle, Ferrara Candy Co., Hormel Foods, and many others (scroll down for a list of top food industry businesses in DuPage).

Today, many of these DuPage businesses are expanding their operations—even amid in the pandemic.

Greenleaf Foods, SPC, producer of some of the world’s most delicious and nutritious plant-based protein—including the #1 meatless hot dog in the U.S.—recently expanded their DuPage facility. Earlier this year, the company signed a long-term lease in Lisle (DuPage) for a new 23,000-SF innovation center. The center features a test kitchen, laboratory and pilot plant. Greenleaf recently took a leading market position in the refrigerated, plant-based protein category, and their Lisle expansion is part of a greater strategy to grow their operations and continue diversifying their portfolio.

<Food Industry

“Our innovation center in Lisle will be an essential hub for collaboration and ideation that helps us drive and sustain business growth,” says Dan Curtin, President of Greenleaf Foods. “Plus, it’s centrally located near our corporate office and Chicago’s O’Hare airport, making it convenient for our customers and associates to visit.”

And Greenleaf is far from the only food business upgrading their operations in DuPage. Rana Meal Solutions, a leading producer of pasta in Europe and, more recently, the U.S., has expanded their facility in the Brewster Creek Business Park of Bartlett (DuPage). Much of Rana’s fresh lasagna is now produced in the new 326,000-SF building, which has earned the nickname “Lasagna Headquarters.”

DuPage County: Benefits for the Food Industry

  • The Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH). Located just outside DuPage in Bedford Park, the IFSH is a one-of-a-kind applied food science research consortium comprised of the Illinois Institute of Technology, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and leaders of the food industry. In collaboration with the FDA, the IFSH provides stakeholders with the opportunity to develop and exchange knowledge, experience and expertise in the areas of food safety, defense, processing and nutrition.
  • Unrivaled industry expertise. Illinois is home to more than 72,000 farms, covering nearly 76% of its total land area. Illinois farms are top producers of corn, soybeans, livestock and dairy. The state also boasts more patents in food-related industries than any other state—in fact, it has more patents than many countries do.
  • Ample access to water. Water is essential for the manufacturing and transportation of food, and DuPage offers more than 100 miles of navigable waterways. The region’s water is supplied by Illinois’ Lake Michigan Water Division. In addition, DuPage County owns and operates six water systems to service customers.
  • A strategic location for production and distribution. Just 25 miles west of Chicago, DuPage is at the heart of an international, multimodal freight gateway, offering: North America’s largest inland port, three nearby international airports (O’Hare, Midway and the DuPage Airport), one of the nation’s busiest rail gateways, seven major interstates and some 30,000 miles of highways. As we saw earlier this year, when numerous flights were canceled that would otherwise transport cargo, having access to multiple transportation modes is essential—especially in times of crisis.

Food Industry

Additional DuPage County Benefits

  • DuPage is home to 127 square miles of prime real estate that will soon offer direct access to O’Hare through the region’s Western Access initiative.
  • Local businesses benefit from a business-friendly climate with low commercial property taxes and a highly skilled and educated workforce.
  • Our residents enjoy a high quality of life, with easy commutes, excellent schools, numerous recreational amenities and more space for work and life.
  • DuPage County’s highly desirable commercial properties offer space for large industrial facilities and flexible leases.

Top Food Industry Employers in DuPage:

  • Greco & Sons
  • Get Fresh
  • Rana Meal Solutions
  • Cheese Merchants of America
  • Treehouse Foods
  • Hearthside Food Solutions
  • Wilton Brands
  • Harvest Food Group
  • Pepperidge Farm
  • Nonni’s Foods
  • Campbell Soup
  • Hormel Foods
  • Armour-Eckrich Meats
  • Nestle
  • Otto & Sons
  • Bay Valley Foods LLC
  • Tyson Foods
  • Sara Lee Frozen Bakery
  • McCain Foods
  • Amalgamated Sugar Co.

Hungry for more? Get the facts about the Food Processing & Distribution industry in DuPage County, IL.

In Elmhurst, community rallies to support local businesses, and businesses rally to support community

Kie&Kate Elmhurst

Since she founded her boutique in 2008, Kate Kemph, owner of Kie&Kate Couture in Elmhurst, has understood that her business is part of an ecosystem. The community supports her business; her business supports the community; and, like any ecosystem, the strength of one depends on the strength of all.

In 2020, the ecosystem was put to the test. Elmhurst, like every community, has faced the economic impact and human devastation of the pandemic. But Elmhurst has proven to be resilient, thanks to the creativity of local leaders and the powerful bond between residents and local businesses. Now, the community is showing signs of growth and healing.

Today, we’re taking a look at Elmhurst through the eyes of Kate, a local business leader, to see how her boutique has emerged from a tough year stronger than ever—and how she’s giving back.

While sales were slow at the beginning of the pandemic, Kate’s boutique—which offers clothing, health products and more—pivoted quickly, and that made all the difference. Within the first weeks of the shutdown, Kie&Kate began offering a new product, weekly ‘Friday Feel Good’ packages filled with items hand-picked from the store. It was the first of many innovations to come.

As Kate says, “People went crazy for them.”

In addition to new marketing initiatives, like Feel Good Fridays, Kie&Kate launched a new online ecommerce platform. At a time when Amazon was only shipping essentials and big-box retailers like Nordstrom were 3-4 weeks delayed, Kie&Kate’s new platform enabled them to offer curbside pickup, delivery and shipping within 48 hours or less. Meanwhile, the boutique added new products to their inventory that appealed to customers in 2020: work-from-home clothing, loungewear, spa-at-home products and masks.

Even before the pandemic, Kate says that her boutique had a loyal customer base. But, by doubling down her efforts on social media, she was able to engage that base like never before and grow it.

“I was personally forced to step outside my comfort zone and get in front of my customers on social media,” says Kate, who found that providing helpful content to her customer base ultimately drove sales and built loyalty. “Offering stories, advice, recipes and virtual shopping hours turned out to be helpful and warmly received.”

The quick-thinking and hard work paid off, and Kie&Kate is having their biggest year yet. Sales are up, and—thanks to their online platform and social media content—Kate says that sales during Mother’s Day week were as high as they usually are at the height of the holiday season.

Kie&Kate was far from the only Elmhurst business to pivot during COVID-19. Numerous local shops created ecommerce options and expanded their social media presence. Local restaurants altered their menus and offered new ways for their customers to safely get their food, like walk-up service windows, delivery services and interesting at-home options. (For example, one local business offered an at-home crepe kit that proved to be a hit.)

And while these businesses were forced to pivot and think creatively, Kate says that they couldn’t have been successful without the support of the surrounding community.

“The entire town rallied around my business during COVID,” she says. Local residents showed their support by placing orders, sharing posts on social media, and tuning into Kie&Kate’s weekly Instagram Live stream.

Local businesses, organizations and officials lent a hand. For example, the District 205 Foundation partnered with various small-business owners—with Jennifer Blanchette from Maxine’s Boutique taking point—to organize a Boutique Crawl, a fundraiser that brought the community together.

“The City of Elmhurst was also very supportive of our business and continues to be helpful and responsive,” Kate says. “Erin Jason (the Business-Development Coordinator for the City of Elmhurst) called me at the beginning of the shutdown to offer advice, support, and give me a lay of the land. I was very clear on what we were allowed to do, and that made it easier to bring in additional staff to help with my business.”

The City of Elmhurst has supported local businesses throughout the pandemic—often in surprising ways. For example, the City has allowed restaurants to expand outdoor dining on public and private property, established dedicated curbside pick-up locations, and expanded the liquor licenses of some businesses to accommodate for outdoor seating. City officials have also allowed City-owned property to be used for outdoor fitness classes and have worked with individual businesses to find new opportunities.

And while the community has rallied to support local businesses like Kie&Kate, these businesses have, in turn, given back to the community. Several restaurants have fed frontline workers; banks have helped hundreds of Elmhurst businesses secure CAREs Act Funding; and, when possible, numerous business owners have donated to recovery efforts.

Throughout the pandemic, Kate’s boutique has found creative ways to support teachers, nurses and other frontline workers. A few examples: They donated $1,000 to the Elmhurst District 205 COVID Relief Fund, contributed $350 to the Chicago COVID Response Fund, have given countless yards worth of fabric to people and organizations making masks, and have even created custom care packages.

“I love supporting the community through my business,” Kate says. “There are so many incredible organizations, foundations, causes, fundraisers and clubs in Elmhurst. We live in an active, vibrant town with many talented, professional and creative people.

“I love coming together to impact our community in positive ways.”

While the pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn have hit every community hard, Elmhurst seems to be on its way toward a better future. Drive through Elmhurst today, and you’ll see signs of progress: new industrial building popping up, residential projects preparing to welcome new tenants in 2021, “Coming Soon” signs in windows along the downtown main street and throughout the community.

No words can do justice to the challenges our towns and families have faced this year. But communities like Elmhurst show that creative people working together can make it through the most difficult times—and even come out stronger on the other side.

Elmhurst is a community in DuPage County, Illinois. Like Elmhurst, communities across DuPage have rallied to support local businesses, protect the health of residents and visitors, and even use science to fight back against COVID-19.

Learn more at ChooseDuPage.com/Ready

West Side Tractor opens new headquarters in Lisle

West Side Tractor

The Benck family, ownership of West Side Tractor Sales and RCE Equipment Solutions, are thrilled to announce the opening of their new headquarters. After almost 60 years, the Naperville location (1400 W. Ogden Ave) has been relocated to 3300 Ogden Avenue, Lisle, IL 60532. This is a homecoming for the local family business as West Side Tractor Founders Rich and Mary Benck started the dealership in Lisle, Illinois in 1962. The original 1,000-square-foot West Side Tractor branch was located three miles down the road from where the new headquarters stands today.

The Lisle headquarters project was in the works for almost five years from start to finish. Finding land in the Chicago area that would work for a construction dealership in an ideal location is a difficult task. The Benck family finally decided on an 11 acre property that had sat vacant since 2008 when the car dealership closed. The dealership facility was in fairly good condition with a layout that could work so the Benck family, along with Barnes Architects of Elmhurst, chose to do a full renovation of the property and add on a shop.

“We took everything that we had learned from designing heavy equipment facilities and applied that to creating the Lisle headquarters,” said Steve Benck, President of West Side Tractor. “We focused on the needs of our customers and employees to create a space that not only functions with maximum efficiency, but is also comfortable and inviting and showcases the construction industry.”

Celebrating the History of Construction Equipment

The concept for the front of the building was a glass toy box with floor to ceiling glass windows. On the showroom floor, there are ten antique tractors on display. Each machine has a story that is significant to West Side Tractor, John Deere or represents a pivotal moment in the last 100 years of heavy equipment innovation. The Benck family, specifically Rich, Tom and Steve Benck, are passionate about restoring antique tractors and are excited to share their personal collection with the community. The showroom will be used for events and open to fellow tractor enthusiasts and to inspire the next generation to join the construction industry. Visitors can enjoy the stories of the equipment, including:

  • A 100-year-old 1920 Waterloo Boy, just a handful of these are left. The Waterloo marked John Deere’s entrance into the tractor market.
  • A 1959 Model 440 Loader Backhoe, one of the first machines that West Side Tractor Founder Rich Benck ever sold in this territory with a decal from the original Lisle, IL facility. This tractor was found sitting in a farmer’s barn in Joliet, IL in 2019.

Supporting West Side Tractor Customers

The Lisle facility was designed with customer needs on the forefront. With an easily accessible parts counter and curbside parts pickup, customers can get what they need on the go. The new 16 bay shop has six 5-ton and two 10-ton cranes which allow West Side Tractor technicians to perform services and repairs in a timely and efficient manner. Fluids are plumbed throughout the whole shop with reels in each bay. Each bay includes a new tool bench and paperless work station complete with laptops so technicians can easily run diagnostics, search John Deere portals, access records and update work order details as the work is being done. There are also four separate wash racks for cleaning.

The Lisle headquarters will also be West Side Tractor’s first John Deere certified rebuild facility. This includes a designated clean room with craning capabilities to rebuild engines and components for production class equipment.

Upstairs, there is a state-of-the-art training area that will be offered to customers to utilize. The West Side Tractor team can tailor customized presentations – from machine walk-arounds to safety or technology training sessions– all onsite, any time of the year.

A Home Away From Home for Employees

“We wanted to create a space that is representative of the talent and capabilities of our team,” said Diane Benck, VP of Operations. “Our employees spend the majority of their time each day with us so it was important to our family to provide an environment that not only sparks teamwork and creativity, but that employees have all the tools and resources they need to be as successful as possible in their role.”

Collaboration was a key part of the design. Corporate functions that are currently scattered between West Side Tractor branch locations will be transitioned in-house including the positioning division, fleet services, rental and used equipment. Collaboration is integral in creating customer solutions and brainstorm sessions. Employees have several areas throughout the building to meet and converse with customers and co-workers.

A Nod to the Past, Ready for the Future

The Lisle facility was also designed with the future in mind. For example, with the influx of online parts ordering, the facility has areas to adapt to a fulfillment warehouse concept. The Benck family is also continuing their commitment to diversifying the workforce. The Lisle facility has a female technician locker room and a nursing room for new mother’s transitioning back into the workforce.

There is also much more technology implemented throughout the headquarters, including large touchscreens in the service manager office that tracks and schedules all the jobs open in the shop by employee and a live map showing all field service vehicles on the road. There is also an interactive kiosk on the showroom floor that customers can utilize to search used equipment, send new product brochures to their emails, order parts, and explore historical West Side and John Deere content.

“Our previous Naperville store was special because every office, every service bay had a story or memory from our 58 year history. Our employees at the Naperville branch have been an extension of our family for a long time,” said Lauren Coffaro, third generation ownership. “But this new Lisle facility, this is for the future. This is a place where we can innovate and grow, add new products and expand our teams. It is representative of our commitment to our customers and partners to be the best heavy equipment customer service provider in the Midwest. This is an exciting chapter in the West Side Tractor legacy.”

With Creativity, Innovation and Care, Antunes Grows amid Pandemic

Antunes

CAROL STREAM, IL – At a time when good stories are hard to find, here’s one from the heart of DuPage County.

Headquartered in Carol Stream, Antunes is both a leading manufacturer of custom foodservice and water treatment solutions and a third-generation, family-owned business—a rare combination of global scope and family values.

Like virtually all businesses, Antunes was put to the test this spring when the pandemic swept across the globe, first affecting their China facility before arriving on the doorstep of their Carol Stream headquarters. The company, which serves the foodservice industry, was forced to briefly halt its operations. However, by adopting innovative technologies, pivoting to new market segments and investing in the well-being of their team members, Antunes has weathered the economic and public health crisis of 2020.

Now, the company is not only back on its feet. It’s hiring.

“Our business needs people, and people need jobs,” says Stephanie Allen, head of HR Operations at Antunes. “Just this week alone, we had four interviews and made three offers. We currently have over 22 openings for direct-hire positions. These are full-time, benefit-eligible positions.”

 Antunes  

Two of the keys to Antunes’ success amid the pandemic are its foresight and flexibility.

Even before COVID-19, Antunes saw that the foodservice industry was on the brink of a major technological evolution. Rather than waiting for the change to come, they made it happen. 

Antunes, which serves many of the world’s largest quick-service and fast-casual restaurants – as well as gas-station convenience stores, among other market segments – began investing in automated technologies well before the rest of the foodservice industry, which has often lagged behind other fields in adopting breakthrough tech. Today, the Antunes team envisions a “connected kitchen,” where everything from food temperature to hygiene is monitored through a network of sensors and analyzed by algorithms to maximize quality, safety and efficiency. To that end, Antunes acquired Storelynk in 2019, a brand that specializes in cloud-based analytics platforms and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies for food vendors.

It’s true that Antunes manufactures equipment like toasters, steamers, grills and water treatment systems. But, with custom solutions that often integrate technology like automation and touchless dispensing (a hot product in 2020), quality toasters are far from the whole story.

“We’re a little different from other manufacturers,” says Anthony Muñoz, Global Marketing Manager of Antunes. “We really partner with our customers to create the right solution that fits their organization. That’s both from a physical standpoint, but also understanding their operations. Do they need the equipment to do certain things to fit their menu? Do they need it to operate at a different speed? What’s the volume of output?

“We have a lot of products, but they’re really custom solutions. The products change depending on who our customers are.”

That emphasis on custom solutions – as opposed to off-the-shelf products – has enabled Antunes to pivot quickly amid the pandemic and serve their clients’ rapidly changing needs. Many of their clients have managed to expand their customer base amid the pandemic by focusing on drive-thru, delivery and pickup capabilities. However, these businesses face a trio of challenges: They need an environment where team members can work safely; they need to minimize contact with food; and, at the same time, they need to produce just as much – or more – product as before. As a solutions provider, Antunes is able to work with companies like McDonald’s and Panera, which have distinct kitchen layouts and products, to design solutions for their unique challenges.

For example: This year, Antunes has ramped up production of its touchless dispensing systems. These devices automatically dispense different types of sauces – with varying viscosities and temperatures – to minimize employee contact with food. This product, like all Antunes products, can be customized to the clients’ unique foodservice environment, whether they need a compact unit, a device that’s integrated with their refrigeration system or another customized solution.

As the company expands their capabilities, Antunes is finding demand for their work in new markets—some of them surprising. Coffee shops, for example, can use the touchless dispensing systems to distribute various types of milk and milk substitutes. Convenience stores that want to do-away with messy condiment packets and hand-pump dispensers can use the touchless system for distributing ketchup and mustard.

Antunes isn’t limiting themselves to a single market, product line or solution. They’re flexible, and that’s allowed them to keep up with the rapidly changing foodservice industry – both before and during the pandemic – and expand into new markets.

Today, their manufacturing facility in Carol Stream – which, along with their innovation center in Crystal Lake, produces every product for Antunes’ domestic clients, including electronic components and even the products’ boxes – has been reconfigured to meet their clients’ new demands. That includes products like translucent shields and stands for universal hand-sanitizer.

Antunes

The other key to Antunes’ success has been the company’s ongoing investment in its people.

That story begins long before the pandemic. In fact, it goes all the way back to the early 20th Century, when the Antunes family immigrated from Portugal to the United States.

At the time, the family didn’t have many resources, but they wanted to provide the best for their son, August J. Antunes. From a young age, August had a passion for building things, and this passion came to define his life. After training in the U.S. Navy as an Aviation Machinist, August started a family in Chicago – in fact, he met his wife, Virginia, on the first night of Basic Training – and, with the support of his growing family, founded the company that would one day become Antunes. The fledgling business had its big break when it partnered with McDonald’s in 1970, just as the fast-food empire began to expand globally. As McDonald’s grew, Antunes grew with it.

But some things never changed. Even as August’s company grew – its products eventually reaching more than 150 countries – it remained a family business committed to treating every team member like one of their own.  

As an employee at Antunes, the company goes above and beyond to care for your well-being. The Carol Stream headquarters has a cafeteria, where you’ll find fresh fruit and healthy snacks throughout the day; a company library filled with books related to professional development; and quiet rooms where employees can unwind. Team members and their families even have access to an on-site health center, created in partnership with Advocate. The center is staffed with a nurse practitioner and a medical assistant, and there is no co-pay and no pharmacy charges for team members enrolled in the company’s health insurance plan. Staff also benefit from an on-site fitness center, open during and after work hours, with treadmills, weights and elliptical machines, as well as on-site trainers and a golf simulator. At the end of the workday, employees will often meet at the fitness center for yoga and Zumba classes (prior to the pandemic).

In 2016, Antunes expanded, adding 55,000-SF to their Carol Stream facility, which is now 170,000-SF. The expansion created a dedicated space for the company’s maintenance apprenticeship program, which offers employees up to 100 hours of foundational coursework and 400 hours of specialized maintenance training, covering topics such as OSHA safety, blueprint reading, precision measurement and asset management. So far, more than 70 team members have completed the program.

“We’re a learning organization and a learning culture,” Stephanie says. “We want to ensure that our team members continue to develop, which is why we offer continued education and opportunities to advance within the organization.

“We invest heavily in our people, because we want the best for them.”

Giving back is baked into the culture of Antunes. Employees are encouraged to take paid time off to volunteer. Many team members donate time and/or money to Splash, a nonprofit organization that brings clean water and other essentials to children throughout the world. In 2011, Antunes named Splash their official corporate charity. So far, the company has raised more than half a million dollars for Splash through various initiatives and events, and they continue to manufacture the organization’s water filters in their Carol Stream facility. Splash, in turn, has installed more than 1,140 Antunes water filtration systems for people in need.

“Our team members are really motivated by our work with Splash, because they’ve seen the video footage and photography that comes back,” Anthony says. “They see the impact that it has on the kids, and they get moved by it.”

For all the reasons described above, Antunes was listed among the Chicago Tribune’s Top Workplaces in 2019 and was named the 2017 Family Business of the Year by Loyola University Chicago.

Antunes

As the COVID-19 epidemic accelerated in the spring of 2020, Antunes, like many businesses, was met with the dual challenges of keeping their employees safe while continuing to run their operation.

By the time the pandemic hit the U.S., Antunes had already experienced an early wave in China, where the company has a facility in Suzhou. The Antunes leadership decided early on to temporarily close their Carol Stream facility, even before the Illinois government effectively shut down the state. Office team members were told that they would temporarily work remote, while assembly and warehouse team members were given one week of paid time off as the company reconfigured production lines and shifted schedules, modelling their decisions based on successful practices of their colleagues in China.

Production lines and the cafeteria were reconfigured to allow for social distancing. PPE was made readily available. Every employee had their temperature taken upon arrival. A new shift was added, allowing employees on the production line to socially distance and team members with children to be home during school hours.

Some employees were temporarily furloughed. However, the company kept their on-site clinic open for all team members, including those furloughed, and provided additional resources and education.

After six weeks, Antunes began inviting furloughed employees to return to work.

“We gave team members an opportunity to return based on a schedule that worked for them and their family, but we were also supportive and understanding of their challenges,” Stephanie says. “Initially, there were people who weren’t ready to return. Jane and Glenn were really sensitive to that, and we put in processes and protocols to make sure people felt good about coming back.”

Some were hesitant to return to work because their children were participating in online learning during the fall, so Antunes worked with these team members to coordinate work schedules around school schedules.

“Our message was: We got this. We’re all going to be okay, and we’re going to get through this together.”

Today, all of the company’s furloughed employees have returned to work. And now, due to the company’s creativity, innovation and genuine care for their people, Antunes is on a path to growth and success.

In DuPage County, our businesses, people and institutions are working together to succeed today and create a better tomorrow. Click or tap here to learn more about DuPage.