Tag: Economic development

Top ten stories from the North Branch in 2020

As 2020 draws to a close, it’s a great time to pause and reflect on the accomplishments of the year. With that in mind, here is North Branch Works’ top ten list of stories from our service area in 2020.

As you read through them, please take a moment to celebrate these successes, especially if you are a member business and/or partnered with us to make them happen.

1. Our Executive Director Jonathan Snyder was selected to serve on the Lincoln Yards Community Advisory Council (LYCAC). The LYCAC meets regularly with the City of Chicago and Sterling Bay to review project status, including infrastructure design, and ensure community concerns are addressed.

2. North Branch Works helped member businesses in our service area receive $235,000 in COVID-19 relief grants and workforce development funding. We prioritized connecting our member businesses to grant opportunities as soon as they opened and helping them navigate the application process.

3. Despite the pandemic, our Small Accessible Repairs for Seniors (SARFS) program continued upgrading homes so longtime residents can enjoy a high quality of life. We’re on track to complete upgrades in 20 homes this year (pictured below right North Branch Works Field Manager Reggie Hamilton installing a grab bar) and planning to hit the ground running in 2021.

4. Eight new member businesses joined North Branch Works this year. We welcomed Rockwell on the River, mHub Chicago, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago, CharityWatch, SYNLawn of Chicago, the Alley Chicago, ACN Bookkeeping, and Vision One Agency. Please consider tapping into our valuable community network of businesses and nonprofits by joining as a member.

5. To keep the momentum going for infrastructure improvements for businesses on Goose Island, we hosted the second annual Goose Island Summit, bringing together about forty businesses with city leaders, including 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar, and representatives from CTA, CDOT, and DPD.

6. One of our top priorities is the growth and development of minority-owned businesses in our service area. Toward that end, we built a wonderful partnership with the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council, which has incredible resources for minority entrepreneurs and businesses. Take a look at these features of Chicago MSDC, MBDA Business Center and the MBDA Export Center.

7. In order to support the growing business corridor on Rockwell Street, we convened a Rockwell Street Infrastructure Task Force meeting so we could get an update on an ongoing traffic study from CDOT and give community businesses a voice in potential streetscape improvements coming to this bustling area.

8. Recently, the Logan Square Farmers Market relocated for the winter to Rockwell on the River, a major win for neighborhood economic development. The Farmers Market will be open for business on Sundays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. until March 28, 2021.

9. Vision One Agency produced incredible video features of our business members for our first ever virtual Fall Fundraiser. Please watch these videos that showcase Metropolitan Brewing, Guild Row Chicago, and mHub Chicago.

10. North Branch Works hosted Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox and 33rd Ward Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez for a tour of businesses on Rockwell Street. The tour included stops at Metropolitan Brewing, Rockwell on the River, and Guild Row Chicago (pictured right, co-founder Mike Healy speaking) as well as a discussion of the urgent need for streetscape improvements in this area.

Stay on top of the latest economic development and neighborhood business news by signing up for our bi-weekly newsletter. And please follow/like us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Thank you to our members, partners, and supporters for an engaging, informative, and productive year.

Rockwell on the River hosts Logan Square Farmers Market starting Dec. 13

In a major win for neighborhood economic development along the North Branch, the Logan Square Farmers Market will relocate for the winter to Rockwell on the River in Avondale, opening for business on Sunday, Dec. 13th from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Farmers Market will operate from this location on Sundays until March 28, 2021 and follow strict COVID-19 protocols such as requiring masks and social distancing.

Rockwell on the River is located about a mile from Logan Square on Rockwell Street in between Belmont and Elston Avenues and accessible via the CTA #76 Diversey and CTA #77 Belmont buses.

Because Rockwell on the River generously provided two warehouses (3029 and 3031 N. Rockwell Street), you can take comfort knowing the space has over 17,000 square feet for vendors and customers to safely spread out.

And if you go, please keep in mind that the first hour (9-10 a.m.) is reserved for shoppers with high-risk.

North Branch Works is thrilled to welcome the Logan Square Farmers Market to our service area. It’s a great example of the opportunities we regularly identify and pursue for our business and nonprofit members and our work to promote spending at locally owned neighborhood businesses whenever possible.

In this case, we already happen to partner closely with the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce and Rockwell on the River, a dedicated North Branch Works member. Upon learning the Farmers Market needed a new space for the winter, we connected these two incredible organizations leading up to this exciting news.

We highly recommend visiting Rockwell on the River before and/or after going to the Farmers Market. A dynamic food and events destination, Rockwell on the River is home to many wonderful family-owned businesses such as Metropolitan Brewing, Metropolis Coffee, and Judson and Moore Distillery.

And by going for a short walk north on Rockwell Street, you can easily stop by businesses such as Guild Row Chicago, Bash Sports Academy, and the Alley Chicago. Please visit and support these businesses.

It’s exciting the Logan Square Farmers Market is coming to such a growing and thriving part of Avondale. We see this development as an incredible opportunity for existing businesses and the Logan Square Farmers Market to successfully grow their businesses.

And these types of partnerships support our vision for the North Branch of the Chicago River, which would bring many benefits to the city including thriving businesses, high-quality jobs, and sustainable economic development.

Goose Island Summit highlights need for infrastructure upgrades

In carrying out its valuable role as a planned manufacturing district, Goose Island makes a major contribution to the well-being of Chicago’s economy.

A manmade island with a rich industrial legacy, Goose Island is approximately 160 acres and runs in the Chicago River from Chicago Avenue to North Avenue.

To ensure Goose Island remains a vibrant place to work and do business, North Branch Works recently convened the 2nd Annual Goose Island Summit, bringing together nearly forty businesses with city leaders, including 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Samir Mayekar, along with representatives from DPD, CDOT, and CTA, to identify top priorities and action steps.

Although the one-hour dialogue covered many topics, businesses consistently identified the urgent need for infrastructure upgrades that create safe access to and from Goose Island as well as the immediate surrounding neighborhood areas.

Participants heard updates from ongoing and future planned projects such as:

  • The removal of train tracks on Cherry St. between North Branch Street and the dead end at the north end of the island
  • The replacement of the Division Street Bridge, a vital connector for goods and services across the island, and installation of a new stop sign.
  • The ridership levels that would be required for the Chicago Transit Authority to resume the CTA #132 Goose Island Express Bus.

With new companies expected to move to Goose Island, there’ll be tremendous demand for alternative modes of transportation such as walking and biking and fast and reliable bus service.

And we know investments in infrastructure will return tremendous economic development benefits, especially on Goose Island, which is home to major companies and family-owned businesses including Mars Wrigley, Waste Management, MxD, FedEx, Amazon, Calihan Catering, and Gold Coast Auto Body.

And by attracting and retaining industrial businesses, Goose Island ensures that high-quality jobs with family-sustaining wages that require only middle skills are available to all Chicagoans.

As a significant part of our service area, North Branch Works is dedicated to serving and advocating for the business community on Goose Island so it can continue to offer high-quality jobs and serve as a major contributor to healthy neighborhoods.

With questions and to get involved in moving this work forward, please contact Steve Simmons, Director of Business and Economic Development, 773-929-5552 x2226, steve@northbranchworks.org

Image credit: Port Urbanism

Register for North Branch Works’ Fall Fundraiser

Looking for a fun and socially-distanced way to support family-sustaining jobs and local businesses? Then please join us for our Fall Fundraiser on Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

Supporting our work is a great way to help businesses and nonprofits get started, grow, and thrive. Our entertaining one-hour program will feature incredible local businesses such as:

  • Metropolitan Brewing, a woman-owned business that specializes in brewing German style lagers and is located at Rockwell on the River.
  • mHub Chicago, a hardtech and manufacturing innovation center that helps entrepreneurs launch new businesses by taking physical products from concept to prototype to production.
  • Guild Row, a membership-based social club in Avondale for the artisanally curious.

Along the way, you’ll hear from our friends at the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council about our partnership to grow and strengthen minority businesses in our service area.

The program also includes an expert drink-making demonstration from KOVAL Distillery. And we expect to add a few mystery guests to the lineup shortly.

Our Fall Fundraiser will be an evening 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 donation is $50; however, donations in any amount are greatly appreciated. To purchase a ticket, please click here.

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

 

North Branch Works leads new push for a safe Rockwell Street

If you’ve ever traveled to Avondale businesses on Rockwell Street between Elston and Belmont Avenues, then you know it’s not an easy area to get around by foot, bike, and car.

And having safe and easy access to businesses is smart public policy that would create many benefits including local jobs, business growth and development, and keep local dollars circulating in the neighborhood.

For these important reasons, North Branch Works is working hard to upgrade the infrastructure by convening local businesses, neighborhood residents, and key stakeholders to inform plans for a safe and accessible Rockwell Street.

This neighborhood area is home to many incredible destinations such as Rockwell on the River, Metropolitan Brewing, Metropolis Coffee, Guild Row, Bash Sports Academy, and the Alley.

Presently, this part of Rockwell St. (pictured above facing south towards Elston) lacks sidewalks in either direction, making it difficult for people on foot to navigate safely between local businesses and nearby residential areas.

And it’s even harder for people walking during peak travel times as drivers use the street as a shortcut to access the expressway via Belmont Avenue.

To build broad community support for safety upgrades, we recently convened a Rockwell St. Infrastructure Task Force meeting for approximately thirty businesses and neighborhood stakeholders in partnership with 33rd Ward Ald. Rossana Rodriguez and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CD0T).

Participants heard an update on initial findings from an ongoing traffic study being carried out by CDOT and had the opportunity to inform initial design concepts and next steps.

The study found that 300 bicyclists use this area daily. And that number is only expected to increase with the completion of the 312 RiverRun Trail as well as the prospect of a continuous Chicago River Trail.

Some of the initial design concepts include adding dedicated space for people walking and biking in addition to having vehicle lanes in both directions. Making these types of upgrades will improve public safety and create a more orderly way of getting around the area (pictured above right Rockwell St at Elston Avenue facing south).

Unfortunately, CDOT does not have any funding to build improvements at this time.

North Branch Works will continue to partner with local businesses, neighborhood stakeholders, and city leaders to move this important work forward though research, outreach, and bringing people together.

So what are the next steps and how can you get involved?

We’re excited to announce the launch of the Rockwell Street Area Advisory Committee, which is open to the public as well as any businesses and stakeholders interested in helping shape and advance a new vision for Rockwell St.

With questions and to join the committee, please contact Steve Simmons, Director of Business and Economic Development, 773-929-5552 x2226, steve@northbranchworks.org

Image credit: Chicago Department of Transportation

 

City economic development programs return great value

As the City of Chicago begins to develop its budget for next year, it’s important to keep in mind that economic development programs for neighborhood businesses have never been more valuable.

Because the pandemic and recent social unrest have affected businesses in numerous ways, organizations like North Branch Works require flexibility to meet ever-changing business needs.

Every day, we provide a variety of crucial support services to businesses as a delegate city agency through two programs: the Neighborhood Business Development Center (NBDC), funded by the Chicago Department of Business and Consumer Protection, and the Local Industrial Retention Initiative (LIRI), funded by the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.

And to give you an idea of our annual impact, we consult with over 108 business through LIRI and over 72 new businesses through NBDC. Our program area includes all or parts of the following city wards: 2, 27, 32, 33, 35, 42, 43, 44, and 47.

Our NBDC services include helping new businesses navigate the city’s licensing process, transition from startups into mature and growing businesses, and access financial resources such as grants and low-interest loans.

Recently, North Branch Works promoted grants available through Chicago’s Together Now Fund and the State of Illinois’ Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program. As a result, one of our member businesses secured a $20k grant to help cover the costs of having to suspend operations during the pandemic.

Our NBDC work also allows us to build strong relationships with businesses and identify candidates for our low-interest small business loan program, which is another resource that can be leveraged for business growth.

And through LIRI, we advocate for and support larger industrial businesses. Retaining industrial jobs is crucial because they pay family-sustaining wages and require middle skills—often only two years beyond high school.

As a central part of LIRI, North Branch Works regularly convenes Infrastructure Task Force meetings to identify and push for business-friendly improvements to the built environment.

Some of our recent wins include the installation of a new stop sign on Goose Island, providing up to date information about the upcoming Division Street Bridge project as well as the update to the Halsted Triangle Plan, and participating in the Lincoln Yards Community Advisory Council.

The LIRI program also allows us to connect businesses directly to valuable city programs such as the Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF), TIFWorks, and TIF 50/50. These programs can cover all or some of the costs of building upgrades for your business and training your workforce.

North Branch Works urges Mayor Lightfoot and City Council Members to commit to increasing funding for these essential neighborhood economic development programs in the 2021 budget.

These economic development programs support our vision of a thriving business sector along the North Branch that would bring many benefits to Chicago including family-sustaining jobs, increased revenues to the city, and a strong and healthy consumer base.

If you are a business and would like to explore how our services could benefit you, please contact Steve Simmons, Director of Business and Economic Development, 773-929-5552 x2226, steve@northbranchworks.org

ChicagoMSDC strengthens minority businesses

During this time of social unrest, many businesses are looking for opportunities to advance a racially equitable future. Fortunately, the city is home to the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council (CMSDC), a corporate sponsorship-based organization with a successful history of growing and cultivating minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs).

ChicagoMSDC plays four primary roles; it certifies, develops, connects, and advocates for MBEs. The organization has corporate members and creates partnerships between major-buying organizations and minority-owned suppliers.

Founded in 1968 after social unrest rocked Chicago, ChicagoMSDC responded by launching the Chicago Business Opportunity Day, which brought together corporate and community leaders determined to create opportunities for low-income communities.

As a result of its success, this event was re-named the Chicago Business Opportunity Fair, which continues to flourish to this day as the organization’s premier annual event and is wrapping up its 53rd Annual Event.

And ChicagoMSDC is one of 23 affiliates of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) which was founded in 1972 to increase procurement and business opportunities for minority businesses of all sizes.

Currently, ChicagoMSDC’s members include over 250 public-and-private-sector buying organizations and nearly 1,000 minority-owned businesses in Chicago, Northwest Indiana, and St. Louis. And this partnership is incredibly successful; buying members report spending over $3 billion annually while MBEs employ over 20,000 workers in family-sustaining jobs.

In order to certify as an MBE, at least 51% of a business must be owned by people who are Asian, Black, Hispanic, or Native American.  If your business meets this requirement, you don’t have to do it alone; ChicagoMSDC can help you–it certifies over 300 MBEs annually, usually taking about 90 days to certify.

And August is National Black Business Month. Be sure to follow ChicagoMSDC on Twitter and Facebook for success stories of Black-owned businesses in the Chicago region. You can also look them up by searching #blackbizmonthchi and #chicagomsdc.

Recently, Chicago MSDC welcomed a new President and CEO, J. Vincent Williams (right). He brings extensive experience managing small business development and succession and building valuable community partnerships from the public and private sector. He knows that we have an unprecedented moment to push for supplier diversity.

The good news is many businesses and community leaders are looking to ChicagoMSDC for leadership during these challenging times. Vince and his staff have never been busier.

North Branch Works is honored to partner with ChicagoMSDC in our work to grow and strengthen minority-owned businesses in our service area. We highly recommend reaching out to ChicagoMSDC if you’d like to get involved and support minority-owned business development and family-sustaining jobs in Chicagoland.

Please contact Shondra Watson-Wilson, Director of Strategic Partnerships, 773-755-2552 or swatsonwilson@chicagomsdc.org.

Image credits: Chicago MSDC

Rockwell on the River, an incredible destination along Chicago River

Summer is not over yet; you can have plenty of socially-distant fun on the cobblestone streets at Rockwell on the River, a dynamic craft food and events space in Avondale along the North Branch of the Chicago River.

Located at 3057 N. Rockwell St. in between Elston and Belmont Avenues, the company began seven years ago when developer Paul Levy repurposed industrial buildings from what had been a tannery.

Reflecting his vision of an artisanal food space like no other in the city, the complex has a diverse and growing mix of local and family-owned small businesses including Metropolitan Brewing’s taproom and brewery, Metropolis Coffee, and Judson and Moore Distillery.

The company’s long-term goal is to be known as a destination for the best food Chicago has to offer and an asset to the Avondale neighborhood.

And Rockwell on the River expects to add several new food-based businesses to its lineup soon. If you happen to be in the food industry, the complex offers customized kitchen spaces available for rent and often hosts pop-up cafes.

Currently, Catered by Design offers a pop up café on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. And please take advantage of the company’s two-for-one sandwich deal, using this QVR code.

After stopping by food vendors, you can take in the scenic Chicago River and see nature up close by renting kayaks from Wateriders Kayak Rentals and boats from Chicago Electric Boats—both companies operate from the complex’s dock behind the buildings.

And eventually the plan is to add a Chicago Water Taxi stop operated by Wendella to the Rockwell dock.

Because this stretch of the Chicago River is used primarily for recreation, it’s a great place to escape from the grid and enjoy the natural world, including blue herons, which were spotted in the area recently.

And if you visit, you can rest assured knowing all the businesses at Rockwell on the River follow strict COVID-19 protocols, including requiring social distancing and face masks, and cleaning surfaces regularly.

Along with providing space for food businesses to succeed, Rockwell on the River has a breathtaking 20,000 sq. foot event space overlooking the river (see below right) that can be rented for weddings, corporate gatherings, and galas.

The grounds also feature beautiful offices that can accommodate firms of all sizes. Available offices range in space from hundreds to thousands of square feet.

North Branch Works is proud to welcome Rockwell on the River as our newest member. We’re grateful our members on Rockwell Street can safely operate and excited about partnering with them to strengthen existing businesses, attract new ones, and bring family-sustaining jobs to the neighborhood.

If you’d like to rent space or connect with Rockwell on the River, please contact Jeff DeLong, Director of Marketing & Programming, 312-498-6382, jdelong@bridgeportart.com

Image credits: Rockwell on the River

Join Wendella Boats for tours & events

Update: February 23, 2021:  Wendella Boats’ 2021 season will start between March 12-19 depending upon conditions in the Chicago River. For any business, property owner, or organization looking to host a private event aboard a Wendella vessel, please contact: aws@wendellaboats.com

Because of COVID-19, the long-term viability of Chicago’s small businesses in the events and entertainment field like Wendella Boats depends upon the support of local residents and businesses.

A family-owned, multi-generational small business, Wendella Boats offers breath-taking architecture boat tours, hosts corporate events, and operates the popular water taxis which safely transport people to multiple destinations along the Chicago River.

Founded in 1935 by a Swedish immigrant who bravely purchased the company’s first boat during the Great Depression, Wendella Boats played a big role in helping Chicago and the country through major events such as CTA worker strikes, World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and 9-11.

Prior to the pandemic, Wendella Boats employed over three-hundred people and kept them in jobs year-round by having them repair boats during the winter months.

And these are good jobs that pay competitive wages without requiring much education or experience beyond high school.  As an employee benefit and workforce development strategy, the company provides scholarships to help employees obtain their Coast Guard credentials.

Now, because revenues have fallen 90%, the company has been forced to reduce its workforce to one-hundred and furlough 60% of its staff. Wendella Boats also recently made the difficult decision to suspend water taxi service. Just last year, water taxis transported 415,000 people to and from various riverfront destinations.

With tourism and hotel occupancy in the central business district down sharply, the company is counting on Chicago residents and local companies to take architecture tours and book events.

The good news is Wendella Boats provides the safest and socially-distant entertainment available. It’s a great way to see Chicago’s awe-inspiring architecture up close, learn more about the city, and relax and unwind.

The company’s ninety-five-foot steel tour boats feature an open air upper deck (pictured above) and plenty of space to comfortably social distance. And you can rest assured knowing the company follows all the COVID-19 protocols, including cleaning the boats vigorously after each trip, taking temperatures of its staff, requiring face masks, and enforcing social distancing.

Because of these measures, only one-hundred people are allowed on the boat per outing. And while following these guidelines is a must for public safety, it also means the company is down one-third of its revenue even if it sells out the boat.

Despite these challenging times, Wendella Boats continues to show its incredible commitment to the city. A portion of the proceeds from its bar service is donated every week to local nonprofits.

North Branch Works is proud to count Wendella Boats among our members and grateful it can safely host tours. We highly recommend hopping on an architecture boat tour, booking an event, and referring family, friends, and colleagues.

Any support you can provide is greatly appreciated. You can purchase tickets for an architecture tour by stopping by Wendella’s dock (see below) at 400 N. Michigan or going here.

Four Star Family Cyclery improves lives during COVID-19

After overcoming a fear of cycling, Elsbeth Cool (pictured above) purchased her first cargo bike as an adult, taking a leap that ultimately inspired her to launch a small business selling cargo bikes.

Now, as the owner of Four Star Family Cyclery, she gets to help customers and their families experience the many benefits of choosing to bike for everyday transportation.

A woman-owned, family business in Avondale, Four Star Family Cyclery specializes in selling cargo, family, and electric-assist bikes. And you can also stop in to rent a bike and for bike accessories, including helmets, locks, and general repairs like having a flat fixed.

And if you haven’t heard of cargo bikes, they are bikes that have been adapted so they can carry heavy and bulky loads, including passengers like children. They vary by design and come in two, three, or four-wheel forms and with or without electric assistance.

Four Star Family Cyclery opened its doors in 2016, operating in a 700 sq. foot space on Western Avenue. Because few bike shops in Chicago would carry cargo bikes at the time, Elsbeth courageously started on a small scale.

Once the business succeeded, it needed a larger space. Elsbeth desired a location in a family-friendly neighborhood with walkable streets. As it happened, Four Star Family Cyclery moved to its current location, (3101 W. Diversey Ave. see below), which is in front of the CTA’s #76 Diversey Bus stop at Albany St., right before the onset of COVID-19.

Although the pandemic created uncertainty before peak bicycling season in Chicago, the good news is the company has been extremely busy keeping up with strong demand. And by encouraging a healthy, sustainable and socially-distant way of getting around, the business is making a major contribution to the city as the local economy recovers.

Four Star Family Cyclery is committed to providing customers with high-quality, individualized attention. That’s the primary reason new customers are asked to sign up for hourly appointments at no cost, which you can do here.

If you sign up for an appointment, you’ll receive an hour to talk about bikes with Elsbeth as well as the opportunity to do test rides on scenic Logan Boulevard.

There’s nothing Elsbeth and her team enjoy more than helping people who haven’t biked in years gain the confidence necessary to become year-round cyclists. It’s common for the team to hear customers love their cargo bikes so much they ride them frequently and often sell their cars.

And Four Star Family Cyclery is exactly the type of sustainable business that North Branch Works is working hard to support through our advocacy for policies that create a business-friendly climate and by connecting local businesses to each other for mutually beneficial economic development.

If you’d like to explore the variety of cargo bikes, need bike accessories, or have questions about biking, please contact Elsbeth at elsbeth@fourstarfamilycyclery.com, 224-358-5455.

Image credits: Four Star Family Cyclery