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

Ball Horticultural

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

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

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


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

Gardens at Ball Horticultural Headquarters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gardens at Ball Horticultural

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

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

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

Ball Horticultural Office Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Helix Innovation Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Helix Innovation Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It all connects.”

Ball Horticultural


DuPage County, Illinois

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

Made in DuPage

Made in DuPage

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

 

Two Brothers Brewing Company

Warrenville | Craft Beer, Coffee

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

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

DuPage Craft Beer

 

Shawn Sargent Designs

Glen Ellyn | Handcrafted Home Decor & Accessories

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

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

Shawn Sargent Designs

 

nVenia

Wood Dale | Packaging Equipment

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

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

 

Proto Productions

Addison | Custom Display Cases

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

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

Proto Productions Addison

 

Show-Off, Inc.

Roselle | Custom Costumes

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

 

Flavorchem 

Downers Grove | Flavor, Color, and Ingredient Solutions

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

Flavorchem Downers Grove

 

MedGyn

Addison | Medical Products, Devices, and Technologies

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

MedGyn DuPage

 

Ball Horticultural Company

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

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

<Ball Horticultural Company DuPage County

 

Pioneer Services Inc.

Addison | Precision Parts

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

Pioneer Services DuPage County

 

Greenleaf Foods, SPC

Elmhurst | Plant-Based Foods

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

Greenleaf Foods DuPage County

 

Molex

Lisle, Naperville | Connectivity Solutions Provider

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

Molex DuPage County

 

Fusion OEM

Burr Ridge | Integrated Robot Solutions

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

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

Fusion OEM DuPage County

 

IP Automation 

Downers Grove | Automation and Wire Fabrication Machinery

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

IP Automation DuPage County

 

Antunes

Carol Stream | Custom Food Service & Water Treatment Solutions

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

Antunes Carol Stream Facility DuPage County

 

Victor Envelope Company

Bensenville | Commercial Printing

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

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

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

Victor Envelope DuPage County

 

Ferrara

Itasca & Bolingbrook | Sweet Treats

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

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

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

For more information visit:  www.ferrarausa.com

 

Packaging Personified

Carol Stream | Flexible Packaging Manufacturer

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

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

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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.

ComEd Receives National Recognition for Impact on Economic Development

ComEd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about B2B, requirements and how to apply.

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

Breakfast with the Chairman

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

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

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

photo

Where is the workplace now?

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

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

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

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

What does the data say?

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

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

How is it going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Illinois partners attending this year’s summit include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I-88 E/W Corridor DuPage County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first reinvention: 1960s-1990s

Nicor I-88 DuPage County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bubble bursts

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

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

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

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

The re-reinvention: 2000s-present day

I-88 E/W Corridor DuPage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not your father’s corridor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global DuPage

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

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

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

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

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

Global DuPage

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

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

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

Ramsey Elshafei RE Development Solutions

Full circle

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

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

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

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

Global DuPage Elshafei Sweets

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

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

 

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

To learn more about DuPage, start here.

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.”