Category: News

MxD building the capacity of American manufacturers

Arising from an awareness the U.S. federal government needed to strengthen American manufacturing, MxD successfully obtained a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to create a manufacturing institute in Chicago in 2014.

Prior to this grant opportunity, Illinois faced a vexing problem: many of its high-caliber engineering and science graduates left the state after graduation due to a lack of attractive career opportunities.

To address this challenge, a group of motivated stakeholders including leaders from area universities, private industry, the City of Chicago and State of Illinois, and economic development groups banded together to catalog the region’s many strengths, including manufacturing and computer science, and put together a multisector strategy to better leverage these assets.

Because of this strong foundation, when former President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended creating a nationwide network of manufacturing institutes, MxD (known then as UI LABS) quickly presented a strong application. The organization’s proposal won initial grants totaling $80 million from the U.S. Department of Defense and received support from the City of Chicago and State of Illinois to convert a former windows and doors factory into its innovation center.

Today, MxD is a woman-led, membership-based manufacturing institute that occupies a state-of-the-art facility on Goose Island (1415 N. Cherry St.) with a 22,000 square-foot shop floor (see below right). MxD is the second of 16 manufacturing institutes created by the federal government across the country.

Birds-eye view of the factory floor at the MxD Innovation facility.

Some of MxD’s high-profile members include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Siemens, John Deere, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, and AT&T.

Over the course of its seven-year history, MxD has facilitated public-private partnerships that have invested more than $120 million in 85 different projects. In addition, MxD employs approximately forty people in high-quality jobs.

Recently, MxD launched a Supplier Diversity Procurement Program that allows companies to identify as a diverse supplier, giving them an advantage in applying for projects. If your company is a diverse supplier, you can register here at no cost.

Along with a strong commitment to supplier diversity, MxD is especially proud to have a Board of Directors that is majority women. This stands out in the manufacturing sector, which is typically two-thirds men and one-third women.

A major issue that MxD helps manufacturers address is cybersecurity. It’s a high priority for MxD because a malicious attack can cost your company thousands in damages and reverberate throughout the supply chain. Learn more about the steps you can take to protect your company or consider how you might advance your own career in cybersecurity.

Joining MxD as a member is a great way to grow your network, position your company to participate in new public-private projects, and improve the efficiency and safety of your manufacturing systems.

MxD has a wealth of resources and a valuable network that supports small and mid-sized manufacturers. Some of the company’s resources range from free webinars to members-only content as well as knowledge from different sectors that can help companies address problems.

And the good news is that annual rate for Tier 3 members is only $500. To inquire about joining MxD as a member, please reach out to: membership@mxdusa.org.

North Branch Works is proud to partner with MxD to attract manufacturers and grow manufacturing jobs. These positions are high-quality jobs that pay family-sustaining wages without requiring advanced degrees and ultimately support a more equitable Chicago region.

To see a dynamic video feature of MxD, please join us for North Branch Works’ Spring Fundraiser on May 20th.

North Branch Works would also like to recognize Bill Hurley from MxD for his dedicated service on our Board of Directors.

With questions and to connect with MxD, please email: info@mxdusa.org

Image credits: MxD

The Alley Chicago celebrates its 45th year anniversary in June

After developing an interest in business as a high school student at Holy Name Cathedral, Mark Thomas launched the Alley Chicago, an iconic family-owned business that served Lakeview for over forty years at Belmont Avenue and Clark Street.

Last year, the business moved to Avondale and is now located at 2620 W. Fletcher Street (pictured above). A retail and manufacturing operation, the Alley Chicago designs and sells counter-culture leather, footwear, jewelry, belt buckles, and t-shirts.

It’s well-known for its vast collection of Goth, Punk, Metal, Motorcycle, and Chicago merchandise. The business also carries a wide variety of products so it’s a great place to look for and purchase items—especially as we look for opportunities to support small businesses during the pandemic.

On June 6, 2021, the Alley Chicago will celebrate its 45th anniversary in business. Stay tuned for more details about how you can celebrate this remarkable achievement.

The Alley Chicago prides itself on being a safe and accepting environment for people of all backgrounds and lifestyle orientations. Recently, the business sponsored a transgender and gender fluid fashion show at Water Tower Place.

And while many of its customers experienced being judged by society for being different, they reported feeling welcomed, accepted, and valued at the Alley Chicago.

Over the course of its history, the business has employed 3,000 people in good jobs where they learned essential skills like how to manage the store, make purchasing decisions, and evaluate inventory. Encouraging entrepreneurship has always been an important goal of the owner, Mark Thomas.

Indeed, seeing about three hundred employees return to the business unexpectedly during a store closing in 2016 and learning many of them had started their own businesses is a development that Thomas considers to be one of his greatest achievements.

Currently, the business has a staff of ten people due to a major part of its business shifting to online sales.

In addition to serving as an attractive neighborhood destination, the business supports the artist community by providing approximately one hundred and twenty loft studio work spaces via its sister business, the Art Colony.

The Alley Chicago is currently open and following all of the COVID-19 protocols including mask-wearing, social distancing, and providing hand sanitizer.

North Branch Works members and supporters can help the Alley Chicago by visiting regularly. You can also pick up the latest merchandise from its online store.

Please follow the business on Twitter and Facebook.

We’re excited to work with the Alley Chicago and businesses in the thriving Belmont Avenue/Rockwell Street district to ensure the area remains a great place to work and do business.

North Branch Works is pleased to welcome the business as a new member. With questions and to connect with the Alley Chicago, please reach out to Mark Thomas, mark@thealley.com

Workforce training opportunity for manufacturers in North Branch South

Building the skills of your workforce is a great way to grow your business and position it for success as the pandemic winds down.

And if you are a manufacturer or manufacturing-related business in the North Branch South TIF District, here’s a great opportunity for you.

The City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development and the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC) are offering expert-led virtual trainings at no cost to small manufacturers and manufacturing-related businesses with forty or less full-time employees.

Designed by IMEC experts, the available trainings cover a wide variety of topics, including safety, leadership, process improvements, maintenance fundamentals, and strategy in a post-COVID-19 market.

The goal of these sessions is to help manufacturers upskill and retool their workforce, improve productivity and safety practices, and understand when and how to shift business strategy.

The trainings range from eight to twenty-two hours; individual sessions generally last no more than two hours. Participants who complete the trainings will receive a certificate.

Please keep in mind the North Branch South TIF District is limited to twenty-eight participants for the fully-funded trainings. We recommend signing up sooner rather than later.

North Branch Works is proud to partner with IMEC and the Chicago Department of Planning and Development on this initiative and encourages our eligible member businesses to participate.

To learn more about the trainings and to register, please go here.

With questions about the program, please contact Michelle Fossett at IMEC, 815-275-0159, mfossett@imec.org.

Image credits: Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center

The Hideout poised for reopening

A family-owned business, beloved bar, and live music venue along the North Branch of the Chicago River, the Hideout has a long history of bringing people together as a community, serving as a launching pad for bands, and providing respite to industrial business workers.

Located at 1354 W. Wabansia Avenue (see below left), the Hideout is a two-story, balloon frame house that was built by immigrants during the 1860s—a time when industrial workers scraped together materials to build cottages around the Chicago River that supported the thriving steel mills.

From its birth, the Hideout has always been an instrumental part of the North Branch community. People come together at the Hideout and encourage each other to take chances and pursue their dreams—whether it be starting a band, organizing for a more equitable Chicago, or planning a campaign for alderman.

Some of the high-profile musicians who’ve played at the Hideout include Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Jeff Glenn Kotche (Wilco), John Stirratt (Wilco and Autumn Defense), Mavis Staples (The Staples Singers), Jack White (White Stripes), and Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins).

In addition to being a popular neighborhood destination, the Hideout employs thirty-four people in high-quality jobs. Part-time staff earn good wages that provide them the flexibility to string together opportunities and succeed in today’s gig economy.

The current owners, Tim and Katie Tuten, along with running the Hideout, have played a major role in organizing efforts to improve the quality of life in Chicago. Katie spearheaded the creation of the Chicago Independent Venues League (CIVL), which came together to advocate for small venues to ensure they are recognized for their many contributions to Chicago’s music scene.

Today, CIVL represents over forty independent venues in the City of Chicago.

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, Katie had a prominent role in the #SaveOurStages campaign that pushed the federal government to provide financial assistance to small independent venues. In partnership with Congressman Mike Quigley, this effort scored a major victory in the American Rescue Plan Act, which created a federal grant opportunity for closed venues, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.

North Branch Works would also like to congratulate Katie Tuten on receiving the 2021 Nonprofit Board Member of the Year Award for her work with BandWith, a nonprofit that covers the costs of musical instruments and instruction for under-resourced schools on Chicago’s West Side.

The Hideout is a great example of how neighborhood businesses can thrive in partnership with industrial companies with informed land use planning, which is a top advocacy priority of North Branch Works.

Tim and Katie made the difficult decision to close the Hideout during the pandemic; the business has been shut down since March of 2020. However, we’re thrilled the Hideout is on track to open for outdoor music on its front porch during the summer and has a tentative plan to welcome people indoors in the fall.

North Branch Works members and supporters can help the Hideout by visiting regularly when it opens. In the meantime, please purchase tickets to its incredible virtual events. You can also pick up the latest merchandise from the Hideout’s online store.

North Branch Works is grateful to count the Hideout as a longtime member and to Tim and Katie Tuten for their service on our Board of Directors.

If you’d like to connect with the Hideout, please call 773-227-4433.

Image credits: The Hideout

Sign up for North Branch Works’ Spring Fundraiser on May 20th

Here’s your chance to support neighborhood businesses, high-quality jobs, and the North Branch of the Chicago River as a great place to work and do business.

Please register for our virtual Spring Fundraiser on May 20th at 6:30 p.m. Our entertaining, one-hour program on Zoom will feature dynamic local businesses including:

  • MxD, a woman-led, membership-based manufacturing institute on Goose Island that does incredible work building the capacity and security of American manufacturers.
  • Essanay Studio and Lighting, a company that helps clients shoot high-quality commercials and movies by supplying world-class studios and equipment.
  • A live interview with Anne Bigane Wilson, President of Bigane Paving.
  • Calihan Catering, a family-owned multi-generational catering and events business on Goose Island.

And we’ll learn about current projects and future plans for the area from Ald. Walter Burnett (27th Ward) and Ald. Michele Smith (43rd Ward).

Along the way, we’ll enjoy a beer tasting with Revolution Brewing’s Josh Deth as well as snacks from Calihan Catering.*

Our Spring Fundraiser will be an hour of fun and entertainment. We hope you can join us. Thank you for supporting businesses, high-quality jobs, and sustainable economic development in Chicago.

The suggested minimum donation is $25. To purchase a ticket, please go here.

* If you live in the Chicago region, our staff will deliver beer and snacks to you in advance of the event.

With questions, please contact Steve Simmons, 773-929-5552 x2226, steve@northbranchworks.org

                                       

Nine businesses apply to SBIF in North Branch South

The City of Chicago’s Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF) is one of the best tools we have to foster economic development, add high-quality jobs, and strengthen businesses in our service area.

For these reasons, we’re thrilled that nine businesses located in the North Branch South TIF District, including Gabriel Environmental Services (pictured above), applied for a SBIF grant when the opportunity opened in March.

SBIF provides reimbursable grants to businesses for permanent building repairs and improvements. The program is open to commercial and industrial businesses. SBIF funds can be used to pay for storefront renovations, building systems, interior remodeling, and roof replacements.

Commercial businesses are eligible for grants covering 30%, 60%, or 90% of a project’s costs while industrial businesses with 200 or fewer employees can receive reimbursement for 50% of the cost of a building upgrade.

North Branch Works staff conducted extensive outreach for the program in the North Branch South TIF, including highlighting it in three e-newsletters, making phone calls, and sending emails and letters encouraging eligible businesses to apply.

Guild Row, previous SBIF recipient in the Addison South TIF District

It’s great that many of these businesses in the North Branch South TIF will receive grants; the strong interest in SBIF will help us make the case the City of Chicago should invest more money in the program in the next cycle.

Please keep in mind that North Branch Works’ low-interest Small Business Loan program can be leveraged so your business doesn’t have to find financing or divert working capital for your project. And in some cases, we may be able to make a loan greater than your SBIF award.

Because SBIF is reimbursable, businesses are required to pay for the project up front and then submit documents to SomerCor, the program administrator, to receive reimbursement.

In the past year, North Branch Works made a low-interest loan to a member business that received a SBIF grant; the business carried out its improvement project immediately and then repaid the loan when it received its SBIF grant.

SBIF continues to open in TIF Districts across the city every month. Some of the SBIFs that will open close to North Branch Works’ service area include:

  • Fullerton/Milwaukee in August 2021,
  • Western Avenue North in October 2021
  • Avondale in November 2021.

The next TIF District scheduled to open for SBIF in our service area is Addison South in March of 2022.

To see a full calendar of SBIF openings, please go here.

With questions about SBIF and North Branch Works’ Small Business Loan Fund, please contact Steve Simmons, 773-929-5552 x2226, steve@northbranchworks.org

Image credit: Gabriel Environmental Services

Image credit: Guild Row

Howe Corporation preserving our food supply chain

Seeing a need for innovation in the refrigeration industry, William Henry Howe founded Howe Corporation in Chicago in 1912, designing equipment that popularized the use of “artificial ice.”

Today, Howe Corporation is a fourth generation, woman-owned business that manufactures and sells refrigeration equipment at its facility located at 1650 N. Elston Avenue. The company produces approximately 1,000 units in a typical year; they range in daily ice production from 1,000 to 20,000 lbs.

Along with being highly productive, these machines are environmentally sustainable, a core value of Howe Corporation. With proper maintenance, the company’s ice flaker machines (see below right) can last over 10 years in the retail supermarket and over 20 years in the industrial food processing market.

Energy Star recognized Howe Corporation’s commitment to the environment, presenting the company with a 2019 Excellence in Design Award and Partner of the Year Award for 2020 & 2021. Many of the company’s ice flaker machines have been Energy Star certified.

It’s ideal to use flake ice to preserve food because it has the most surface area contact of any form of ice and provides the greatest cooling capacity. Flake ice easily molds around the product to cool even more efficiently.

Customers use #HoweIce to preserve food along every step in the supply chain from field to table and sea to plate. And having a safe and reliable food supply chain has been incredibly important during the pandemic.

Howe Corporation prides itself on providing high quality customer service and has built many long-term relationships with clients, some of whom have been customers for over thirty years. With export offices in Costa Rica and Mexico, the company is well-known in Latin America.

Some of Howe Corporation’s high-profile clients include Whole Foods, Panera Bread, Wegmans, Concool, and the Seattle Fish Company. And you can find Howe’s machines in over fifty of the top one-hundred supermarket chains in the U.S. and over 100 countries globally.

The company’s product line includes ice flaker machines, condensing units, ice storage bins, filtration systems and accessories. Howe Corporation is a great example of how manufacturing continues to thrive in Chicago and has pivoted from large companies to mid-size and smaller firms.

Currently, Howe Corporation employs a workforce of thirty people in high quality jobs–many of which do not require an advanced degree. And by participating in the City of Chicago’s TIF 50/50 pilot program last year, Howe Corporation was able to hire during the pandemic as well as upgrade the skills of its incumbent workers.

The company’s strong commitment to the Chicago region is reflected in its support of area organizations. In addition to being a member of North Branch Works, the President of Howe Corporation serves as the Board Chair for Jane Adams Resource Corporation (JARC), a provider of high-quality skills training and support services to low-income and unemployed Chicagoans.

Howe Corporation is WBE certified and obtained its Women-Owned Small Business certification (WOSB) from the federal government. This designation will help the company continue to break down barriers within the refrigeration and cooling industry, apply for federal contracts, and connect with other businesses seeking to diversify their supply chains.

Please support Howe Corporation by following and liking the company on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

To connect with Howe Corporation, please reach out to: howeinfo@howecorp.com

Image credits: Howe Corporation

Bigane Paving connects the Chicago region

Since 1985, Anne Bigane Wilson has led Bigane Paving, a fourth generation-owned asphalt company, turning it into a major asset in the Chicago region.

Founded in 1907 by John Bigane, the business initially started as a retail coal and oil supplier. In the late 1950’s, the company added asphalt to balance out the seasonal nature of fuel delivery; over time, the demand for asphalt grew and became the company’s primary product offering.

Today, Bigane Paving serves the Chicago region through its high-quality work on infrastructure improvements, streetscapes, and street and parking lot resurfacing and replacement projects.

The company’s central location (935 W. Chestnut Street) just west of Goose Island among similar land uses provides it with safe and easy access to the city and suburbs. It’s a great example of a thriving industrial company whose future North Branch Works is working hard to protect through our advocacy and by monitoring zoning changes.

In addition to providing valuable services, the company employs approximately twenty people in permanent high-quality jobs and its seasonal staff can reach close to 100 at its peak.

Most of the firm’s business comes from winning city and state project contracts. Remarkably, the company has paved 1,500 miles of streets.

Some of Bigane Paving’s high-profile projects include paving the 606/Bloomingdale Trail as well as bike lanes in the City of Chicago’s Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan and resurfacing the North Avenue Bridge

In 2018, Bigane Paving won the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Contractor of the Year Award for resurfacing North and Southbound Lake Shore Drive between Grand Avenue and Monroe Drive.

Although most of its work comes from public contracts, the business also excels in working with the private sector, having completed successful projects with many religious and scholastic institutions.

And much of the firm’s success is due to the innovation of its leader, Anne Bigane Wilson. A major success during her tenure was the purchase of Ogden Avenue Materials, a manufacturing operation, that allowed the company to expand and serve the entire Chicago region.

Within the industry, Anne is well-known for her ability to work well with the many diverse stakeholders who play important roles in construction projects. Her customers praise her for her detailed approach that consistently delivers projects on time and budget.

During Women’s History Month, North Branch Works is celebrating our women-owned business members. We’re honored to recognize Anne Bigane Wilson for the many contributions she’s made to Bigane Paving, North Branch Works, and Chicagoland.

If you’d like to connect with Bigane Paving, please reach out to info@biganepaving.com

Image credits: Bigane Paving

Celebrating Women’s History Month with KOVAL Distillery

Following successful academic careers, Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart and her husband, Dr. Robert Birnecker, decided to bring the distilling traditions of Robert’s Austrian family to the U.S., taking them on a journey that resulted in the founding of KOVAL Distillery in 2008.

Today, KOVAL Distillery produces organic whiskey, liquors, and specialty spirits from scratch. The company partners with local organic farmers who grow and send grains to KOVAL which manufactures its products on-site in Ravenswood (4241 N. Ravenswood Avenue). KOVAL also recently moved its store within the distillery at this location.

It’s a great example of how manufacturing has shifted from large companies to smaller neighborhood artisanal businesses that provide high-quality jobs without requiring advanced degrees.

KOVAL only uses the “heart cut” of the distillate, making its products stand out due to their clean taste; they’re also organic and kosher. For example, the company uses 100% Midwestern grown organic rye to make its rye whiskey whereas other brands only use the minimum 51% rye blend.

Take a look inside KOVAL by watching this video, From Grain to Bottle.

Some of the places where you can find KOVAL products include: Whole Foods, Target, Binny’s, Beer Temple, Cellar Door Provisions, and many neighborhood liquor stores.

At the time of its founding, KOVAL Distillery faced many challenges including high start-up costs for equipment such as copper stills and 30-gallon drums, securing affordable real estate that could accommodate its needs, and outdated laws governing distilleries that prevented the business from setting up a tasting room, selling retail on-site, and hosting tours.

Fortunately, Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart (pictured above right) has always been a strong policy advocate. Shortly after launching KOVAL, she organized meetings with her alderman and Members of the Illinois General Assembly, resulting in the creation of a Craft Distiller’s license in the State of Illinois. Her persistent advocacy elevated the craft distilling industry in Illinois and made it possible for distilleries to compete fairly with wineries and breweries.

Another way that KOVAL overcame high startup costs was by responding to strong community interest in distilling.  After word spread about the company starting, KOVAL received numerous calls from people wanting to know more about the company, the type of equipment that distilling requires, and general tips for distilling.

Because KOVAL was already the manufacturers’ representative of equipment firms in Germany and other parts of Europe, the company decided to offer workshops and consulting services to the public. Remarkably, KOVAL has helped start 200 distilleries in Canada and the U.S. and educated over 3500 people about spirits.

North Branch Works members and supporters can help KOVAL by purchasing its products, which are available online, and suggesting that venues carry them if they don’t already.

And please visit KOVAL’s bar and patio when it opens after the pandemic winds down. Stay tuned for an opening announcement.

We’re proud to count KOVAL Distillery as a member and especially grateful to Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart for her service on North Branch Works’ Board of Directors.

To connect with KOVAL Distillery, please reach out to: info@koval-distillery.com.

Image credits: KOVAL Distillery

Essanay Studio & Lighting celebrates 25 years on Goose Island

A fixture on Chicago’s Goose Island, Essanay Studio and Lighting helps clients shoot dynamic commercials, TV shows, and movies by supplying world-class studios and equipment.

Founded in 1919, the business occupied several locations in Chicago, including the famous Essanay Film Manufacturing Company stage, before moving to Goose Island in 1996.

Today, Essanay Studio and Lighting rents sound studios and equipment for stage shoots as well as location production such as lights, stands, camera dollies, grip trucks and generators to various production companies.

Some of the company’s high-profile clients include McDonald’s, Apple, General Motors, State Farm and Winnebago. Essanay also provided the equipment and behind-the-scenes expertise for the Showtime hit series, Shameless, and Meet the Maddons, a promotional Winnebago ad series featuring former Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon.

The company’s Goose Island facility (1346 N North Branch) is a great example of adaptive reuse; Essanay converted a former food production company building and additional new construction into a space featuring two sound stages, dressing rooms, production areas and an equipment storage building.

One of the best parts of Essanay’s work is the variety that comes with each job. Every client has different equipment and preparation needs. For example, commercials may require one-to-two weeks to identify props and a shooting location whereas movies can, in general, take three-to-four weeks to do similar preparation before filming.

Along with making major contributions to Chicago as a business and employer, one of Essanay’s partners, Wayne Kubacki–who recently retired–was a founding member of The Illinois Production Alliance (IPA). The IPA was specifically formed with the goal of fighting for policies that made Illinois an attractive place to do filmmaking.

The IPA’s advocacy resulted in the passage of the Illinois Film Tax Credit, an incredible win because production companies often locate their productions wherever they can take advantage of the best tax credits.

Essanay moved to Goose Island due to its central location in Chicago and the property being located in a Planned Manufacturing District, knowing that it would be surrounded by compatible land uses and ensuring that Essanay could deliver to its clients spaces that can be used as intended. This includes recording sound for motion pictures; Essanay’s success depends on its ability to provide these spaces without nearby conflicting land uses.

North Branch Works is proud to have Essanay Studio & Lighting as a member and congratulate the business on its twenty-fifth-year anniversary on Goose Island.

To connect with Essanay Studio & Lighting, please reach out to: info@essanay.com

Image credits: Essanay Studio & Lighting Company