The Smartest, Sleekest & Healthiest Workplaces in DuPage: 2021

suburban office space

An office in the clouds…

A laboratory grown in a garden…

A 007-worthy global headquarters…

…and we’re just getting started.

Ever since we posted last year’s Smartest, Sleekest & Healthiest Workplaces in DuPage, we haven’t stopped thinking about the places where we work.

We’re kind of obsessed with it.

Now, one year later, we set out to find the best workplaces in DuPage.

As usual, we looked for the smartest, the sleekest and the healthiest.

But this year, we had a few other things in mind:

  • Talent attraction. Recruiting high-quality talent is tougher than ever. How are businesses adapting? What role does the workplace play in their strategy?
  • Flexibility. One thing the pandemic helped us understand is that we work best when we get to choose how we work, when we work and where we work. Collaboration is good… sometimes. Having a quiet place to concentrate is good… sometimes. The nature of modern work is that it’s always changing, and so are we. How can our workplaces adapt?
  • Identity. Ever since we started thinking about the places where we work, we couldn’t help but notice how the design of a workplace can either reflect, enhance or hinder a business’ identity. That made us wonder: How are businesses incorporating their unique values and character into workplace design? And how does that design impact the business?

Does this list represent all of the amazing workplaces in DuPage County?

Not even close.

But it does give you a good snapshot.

A wide range of businesses and workplaces are represented here, and each one puts its own spin on workplace design. They couldn’t be more different.

But they have at least one thing in common:

They are the result of deep understanding. These businesses know who they are, who they want to be, who they want to attract, and what kind of future they want to make. And now, they’ve taken that understanding and shaped it into a workplace as original as they are.

In no particular order, these are 2021’s Smartest, Sleekest and Healthiest Workplaces in DuPage

Bosch Automotive Aftermarket North America Offices

Oakbrook Terrace, IL | Service & Technology

Bosch offices in DuPage County

Bosch doesn’t do ‘small’. A leading global supplier of technology and services – which, at last count, has just shy of 400,000 associates worldwide – Bosch has big plans, a fact that becomes clear the second you step into the Skyview Room that is part of the penthouse floor that serves as the central gathering space of the company’s Oakbrook Automotive Aftermarket North America office…

…31 floors up in the air.

From hundreds of feet above Oakbrook Terrace, the room’s 360-degree windows offer a panoramic view of the northern Illinois plains and the Chicago skyline. If you look up, through the interlocking triangular prisms above, you’ll get a view that makes you feel like you’re on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, listening to the countdown.

Between the dramatic view and the smart design, Bosch’s office is a place where you can’t help but be inspired. This is a company with a sweeping global vision, and anyone who takes the elevator up to this office in the clouds gets to see it for themselves.

What we love about it:

  • The flexible design. Bosch is a company built on rapid adaptation. And when they teamed up with Whitney Architects to create their new Oakbrook Terrace office, they set out to design a workplace that could adapt as quickly as they do. The result is an office that transforms to accommodate situations of any nature. Modular furniture, smart rooms, break rooms called pantries  and lounge spaces, cleverly integrated IT support, and numerous meeting and breakout rooms make it easy to find the right environment for any given moment.
  • The natural lighting. Besides the beautiful views, the office’s panoramic windows offer plenty of natural light, cutting energy usage while naturally boosting the mood.
  • The brand presence. Momentum, fluidity, connection, embracing the rapid flow of change—these are the themes you’ll find on every floor of the Bosch office. You’ll find it in the artwork, the décor, the subtle elements of design (and the bold ones, too). As you move through the space, the atmosphere changes around you; geometric shapes and mechanical images one moment, bold organics popping with vibrant color the next.

Stuck on a problem? Need a spark of creativity? Grab a coffee at one of the pantries—and take a walk. This place is designed to inspire.

Architect: Whitney Architects

Ball Horticultural Helix Innovation Center

West Chicago, IL | Horticulture Research & Development

Ball Horticultural office in suburbs

Sitting about thirty floors lower than Bosch’s Oakbrook Terrace office is the new Ball Horticultural Helix Innovation Center, a one-story building designed to evoke the company’s quiet confidence.

But don’t be fooled by its down-to-earth appearance. Located at the center of Ball’s global headquarters in West Chicago, the new Innovation Center is home to some of the most advanced laboratories in the horticultural industry, staffed by some of the industry’s smartest people. Here, a team of world-class researchers develop new products, discover important plant genes, study plant diseases, and quietly revolutionize every garden in the world.

What we love about it:

  • The natural connection. A continuous curving ribbon of floor-to-ceiling glass runs the length of the building, allowing natural light to flow through while giving staff and visitors a view of the garden outside. All labs and offices are organized along the garden, so nature is never far away.
  • The global impact. Ball Horticultural has a strong presence in twenty countries across six continents, making it one of the global leaders headquartered right here in DuPage. The work being done at the new Innovation Center—and throughout Ball’s West Chicago headquarters—impacts people, businesses and communities around the world. The world is always changing DuPage, and we love to see the positive changes that DuPage businesses bring to the world.
  • The talent attraction. Currently, businesses in nearly every industry are struggling to attract talent. As you might have guessed, it’s especially tough to recruit the kind of world-class talent that is essential to Ball’s mission.

The company designed their Innovation Center with this challenge in mind. Not only does the sleek new facility feature advanced technology and laboratories that will enhance their research capabilities—it also showcases Ball’s workplace culture. The building shows potential recruits that this is a company that champions collaboration, transparency, innovation and creating thinking; this is a company that’s investing in what’s next.

Standing at the facility’s entrance, at the threshold of a beautiful garden and a high-tech laboratory, you feel like you’re taking your first steps into the workplace of the future. 

Architect: Christner Architects
Photo Credit: Steve Hall

Scientel Solutions Global Headquarters

Aurora, IL | Telecommunications, Security, Technology

Scientel Solutions office in dupage county

Scientel Solutions Scientel Solutions

Invisible sky-fences, thermal cameras, smart cities…

A business that works with Bond-worthy tech deserves a Bond-worthy home base. And that’s exactly what Scientel Solutions has created in Aurora.

Launched in 2020, Scientel’s state-of-the-art Global Headquarters is the central nervous system of the company’s worldwide network.

The centerpiece of the building is a next-generation Network Operations Center. Within these walls, Scientel’s team can monitor more than a million Internet of Things devices across the globe and use advanced algorithms to detect faults in mission-critical applications.

From there, an indoor “street” connects the Operations Center to the 16,000-square-foot building’s network of offices and flexible collaboration spaces, allowing clients, employees and ideas to circulate throughout the space. Meanwhile, automated systems monitor the building, ensuring maximum efficiency and security.

Eat your heart out, 007.

What we love about it:

  • The big picture. Scientel isn’t the only innovator to recently move to Aurora. The community, which recently launched a Smart City public-private partnership, has seen an influx of high-tech businesses, including NEOTech and Simplify Healthcare, among others. In fact, Scientel’s new headquarters is right across the street from Cyrus One, an innovative data-storage company that serves clients like the Chicago Stock Exchange.
  • The aesthetic blend. For such a futuristic building, Scientel’s headquarters feels refreshingly warm and human. Walnut trim, wood paneling and abstract art add organic, earthy touches to the exposed piping, polished concrete floors and other industrial elements. Meanwhile, frameless glass walls and doors allow natural light to flow through most rooms. Even executive office doors are made of glass, creating an environment of openness, transparency and connection.
  • The high-tech features. It wouldn’t be a Bond-worthy building without some gadgets.

Besides the advanced Networks Operations Center, technology is woven into every inch of Scientel’s headquarters. Each meeting room has a live, real-time schedule that can be booked through your phone or a tablet mounted on the wall. Every office and meeting room is equipped with a Solstice TV, allowing anyone to share their computer or phone on the big screen instantly. Meanwhile, a wide range of touchless smart features, including fully automated lighting and security systems, keep everything running smoothly.

Architect: Cordogan, Clark & Associates
Interior Designer: Lauren Collander, LC Interiors

Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition North America, Inc.

Hamilton Lakes, Itasca, IL | Food & Beverage

Ajinomoto

Ajinomoto Ajinomoto

Customer service over the phone? That’s so last decade.

Now, as a customer of global food & beverage company Ajinomoto, you can call into the new Customer Engagement Center in Itasca, where a livestreaming Ajinomoto employee can not only tell you, but actually show you how to use the product in real time—from their high-tech, video-equipped kitchen.

“Our new Customer Engagement Center gives us the technology and physical space that we need to adapt to our customers’ needs,” says Chef Chris Koetke, Corporate Executive Chef at Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition.

As a customer, you have options. Depending on your needs, you can participate in live demonstrations and receive ongoing support in either a hands-on, in-person format or a virtual, interactive session. That means you can get the support you need—when, where and how you need it.

“That flexibility is a gamechanger for us.”

In addition to the Engagement Center, Ajinomoto’s 55,000-square-foot facility features space for 405 people, a new ‘sensory evaluation laboratory’ that supports real-time analysis of ongoing product development, and an event auditorium for hosting conferences, tastings and innovation workshops.

What we love about it:

  • The thoughtful design. The innovative features of their North American headquarters allow Ajinomoto’s team to do something new (stream customer support and webinars in real time). Because they invested extra time and resources into the design process, they are now able to provide even better service for their customers and differentiate their company from the competition. In addition to the Customer Engagement Center, the new event auditorium further cements their position as an industry thought-leader.
  • The wellness-driven workspace. Ajinomoto and Shive Hattery worked together to ensure that the new building features ample space for customers and employees, allowing for social distancing. Of course, customers always have the option to call into the Engagement Center for live video support.
  • The sleek aesthetic. Geometric patterns and organic shapes come alive with whimsical pops of color throughout the Ajinomoto space. We love seeing how such a sleek, state-of-the-art workplace can also feel so playful.

Architect/Designer: Shive Hattery

Kinectrics U.S. Headquarters

Naperville, IL | Engineering Consulting

Kinectrics

Kinectrics

Here’s a good example of people-first design.

Created in 2019, every feature you find within the Kinectrics U.S. Headquarters—from the flexible workspaces and abundant natural lighting to the convenient location and nearby amenities—is designed to help keep the Kinectrics team healthy, relaxed and focused, so they can be their best selves when they approach the task at hand.

And that’s good for all of us, because, as a company that delivers life-cycle management solutions to the electrical industry, the task at hand happens to be keeping the lights on for millions.

What we love about it:

  • The abundant amenities. What’s outside the office is just as important as what’s within. Located at CityGate Centre—a 31-acre campus that features the offices of businesses like General Motors and Informatica alongside retail space, walking trails, restaurants and a full-service luxury hotel—employees are never far from anything they need.
  • The airy aesthetic. Stepping into the office is a breath of fresh air. Wide corridors, high ceilings and floor-to ceiling windows give the space an open, airy feeling with plenty of natural light.
  • The flexible workspaces. When it’s time to collaborate, there’s a space to fit any situation: huddle rooms for small groups, conference rooms for formal meetings, and a variety of informal shared spaces along the windows.

And when you need a place to concentrate, there’s a space for that, too.

Design/Builder: Arco/Murray

Designer: Rightsize Facility

Dugan & Lopatka Headquarters

Warrenville, IL | Public Accounting

Dugan & Lopatka office in warrenville

Dugan & Lopatka office in warrenville Dugan & Lopatka office in warrenville

What happens when a workplace embodies a culture?

Over the last forty years, the Dugan & Lopatka team has built their business on collaboration and relationships. Communication within the group and with their clients has been as fundamental to their success as their business savvy and financial skills, so it only feels natural that their Warrenville office, built in 2018, embodies this collaborative spirit in every aspect of its design.

While the space can accommodate individual tasks, the focus is on collaboration. Flanked by two conference rooms and a break room, the central hub of Dugan & Lopatka’s office features an airy, open-concept design, with low cubicles and glass office walls that extend one’s line of sight across the office. Meanwhile, several smaller rooms are reserved for impromptu meetings and breakout sessions.

Dugan & Lopatka take a team approach to their work—they often get together to hash out business problems and share their expertise. Their office is designed to let the collaboration flow, so they can do what they do best.

What we love about it:

  • The values-driven design. The best workplaces are the ones that embody a company’s values, and it’s hard to think of a better example than Dugan & Lopatka’s Warrenville office. While there are certainly more dramatic offices featured here, the décor of D&L’s office perfectly reflects the firm’s low-key attitude, while the open-concept design embodies and enhances their collaborative approach to client work. When a client or team member enters this workspace, they experience Dugan & Lopatka’s values in action.
  • The fresh air. Cantera, the building where Dugan & Lopatka is headquartered, features an advanced air-ionization system, keeping the indoor air clean and free of particulates while reducing the amount of air required from outside and cutting energy costs by up to thirty percent. Due to this system and other features, the Cantera building has received an Energy Star Label.
  • The healthy amenities. The Dugan & Lopatka office has just about everything the team needs for a good, productive workday. However, right outside the office, within the Cantera building, you’ll find a fitness facility, an on-site coffee bar, and a drop-in business lounge—the perfect place for a quick break or informal meeting.

Architect: Whitney Architects

RESTORE Hair

Oak Brook, IL | Self-Care Products & Services

Restore

Step up to the glass and behold: Number 54, URLACHER, the jersey of that legendary Bears linebacker, that relentless, unstoppable, possibly superhuman brick wall of a man… And what’s this? A signed picture of the famously bald star, sporting a crop of luscious brown hair.

On the surface, RESTORE Hair, a national leader in the hair-regrowth market, doesn’t seem to have much in common with our last entry, accounting firm Dugan & Lopatka. But much like D&L, RESTORE Hair uses their workplace to embody and celebrate their brand.

From the sleek décor and dark wood panels to that glorious Brian Urlacher shrine, the RESTORE brand is woven into every inch of this 12,000-square-foot Regency Towers office. Relaxing in the lobby, you get the feeling that you’re in a high-end NFL locker room—as though, at any moment, Urlacher himself might walk around the corner, rockin’ his new do.

What we love about it:

  • The experience. Stepping into this space, employees and clients alike are immediately immersed in the RESTORE Hair brand—the look, the feel, the culture and the values. When employees come to work, we want to feel like we’re part of something big, and that’s the vibe we get in the RESTORE office. At the same time, it’s never overwhelming; the brand messaging is tasteful, the floorplan is open and airy, and the décor is clean and modern. It’s energetic, but it also feels like a place where you can relax and focus. 
  • The flexibility. The lobby is an open-concept space with a long line of sight, a great place for casual conversations and impromptu meetings. Then, when employees need to focus, they can close their office doors and get the privacy they need (while the partial-glass office walls keep them visually connected to the rest of the office). Autonomy is always available, but collaboration is never far away.
  • That conversation piece. We love it when workplaces integrate a conversation piece into a space where employees meet with clients. What better way to spark a conversation than an Urlacher shrine?

Designer: Charles Sparks

IBEW Local 701 Hall

Warrenville, IL | Electrical Contracting Industry

IBEW Local 701

IBEW Local 701 IBEW Local 701

The Warrenville headquarters of PowerForward DuPage is at once a multi-tenant office building, a hands-on apprenticeship training center, a community gathering place, a wellness center, the home of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 701, and a testament to the organization’s culture.

Appropriately – as the space serves the needs of hundreds of electrical workers – the building feels energetic.

At any given moment, the next generation of electrical workers are in the classroom, learning the fundamentals of the National Electrical Code while another a group of apprentices are training in the workshop and data lab, immersing themselves in real-world simulations. Meanwhile, a member’s child is seeing a physician in the wellness center as a group of high schoolers are touring the facility, thinking about the future.

Speaking of the future…

Over the next few decades, there is expected to be a shortage of skilled trade workers—just as the nation undergoes a major energy infrastructure overhaul. Challenging times lie ahead.

Then again, when you take a walk through the building and see one generation passing their knowledge to the next, you can’t help but feel a buzz. There’s a hopeful current running through this place.

What we love about it:

  • The multi-use space. The local could have built their apprenticeship training center in one building, their meeting area in another, etc., etc. Instead, they brought all of these elements together in a single facility, and the result is greater than the sum of its parts. By bringing together people at different stages of their lives and careers—from industry leaders to students who are just starting their careers—you get a sense of progression and shared purpose.
  • The values-driven design. The soaring ceilings and full glass entryway welcome in the natural light, showcasing the impressive design of the building’s atrium. It’s yet another example of a place that embodies its organization’s mission in every element of design.

Architect: Solomon Cordwell Buenz & Associates, Inc.

One Pierce & 500 Park at Hamilton Lakes

Itasca, IL | Dynamic Office Space

Hamilton Lakes Itasca

Hamilton Lakes Itasca Hamilton Lakes Itasca

Up to this point, we’ve focused on the workplaces of specific businesses.

But what about the bigger picture?

Located at Hamilton Lakes Business Park in Itasca, One Pierce & 500 Park show us how the features of office buildings and campuses are just as important as the individual workplaces within.

Both buildings feature a wide range of office spaces—with different sizes and layouts—along with world-class amenities, an unbeatable location and plenty of dynamic shared spaces. They offer the kind of foundation that modern businesses need to create an ideal workplace.

What we love about it:

  • The community. One of the greatest benefits that an office building or campus can provide is a sense of shared purpose—a community, a culture, and all of the energy and creativity that come with it. In the past, the desire for community and culture has drawn some businesses downtown. But now many of those same businesses are looking to innovative developments like Hamilton Lakes and CityGate Centre in DuPage County, workplaces that are building a community and a culture all their own. As a tenant at One Pierce or 500 Park, you always feel connected to other tenants thanks to the numerous shared spaces—patios, lounges, lobbies, cafes, restaurants, walking paths and more.
  • The amenities. Within the campus, you’ll find more than three miles of walking trails, acres of beautiful natural areas to explore, healthy dining options, outdoor workspaces, a health club, a hotel, a basketball court and the many shared spaces we mentioned above. And just beyond the campus, there’s a whole world of arts, culture, parks, entertainment and dining to explore.
  • The convenient location. Whether you’re coming from the suburbs, the city, or the other side of the world, commuting to Hamilton Lakes is easy. The campus is located just off the highway in Itasca, a short drive from O’Hare and downtown Chicago.
  • The flexible workspaces. Whether you’re a small upstart plugging into a fully furnished office or a large tenant building out multiple floors of space, these buildings help you succeed by letting you do what works for you.

Reading about One Pierce & 500 Park at Hamilton Lakes is one thing—but it’s much better to see these beautiful workplaces for yourself. Take a video tour, and you’ll see what we mean.

A closing thought

Thank you for reading this year’s feature!

Although the workplaces above couldn’t be more different, they have one advantage in common: They’re in DuPage.

Just west of Chicago, DuPage County is a diverse, innovative community offering a strategic location, a collaborative environment, a diverse culture, beautiful parks and trails, a vibrant arts scene, excellent schools, responsible local governance, and world-class workplaces like the ones featured here.

Thanks to these amenities and more, businesses in DuPage have an edge when recruiting top talent.

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

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.

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