Tag: Economic development

Property zoned manufacturing holds great value

As an advocate for high-quality jobs and manufacturing, North Branch Works frequently reviews and weighs in on zoning change proposals in the eight wards that make up our service area.

Recently, we’ve seen an increase in requests to change properties zoned manufacturing to allow for other uses, including residential. And that’s problematic because the purpose of Chicago’s zoning code is to keep compatible land uses together.

As a general practice, North Branch Works supports maintaining properties zoned manufacturing so there are opportunities to attract new companies with jobs that pay family-sustaining wages without requiring advanced degrees.

Using land for manufacturing is community-friendly and creates many benefits including strengthening economic development, increasing revenue for the City of Chicago, and providing high-quality jobs that support equitable and diverse neighborhoods.

Our member businesses have worked hard for many years to create thriving business districts throughout our service area such as Rockwell Street south of Belmont Avenue and on Goose Island. It’s dangerous to entertain changing zoning when it would break up a block of properties zoned for manufacturing and open the door for more proposals that would further mix land uses.

And we know that once manufacturing leaves an area, it’s nearly impossible to bring it back. That’s a major reason Planned Manufacturing Districts (PMDs) were created throughout Chicago. PMDs are designated areas where zoning laws prohibit residential development and other specific uses; they provide safe spaces for businesses to operate without nearby conflicting land uses.

In cases where property owners are struggling to attract a business, North Branch Works sees it as our mission to work with owners and Members of City Council to recruit a company that complies with the current zoning.

And we’re excited to join the Chicagoland Manufacturing Renaissance Council and its members to promote and protect manufacturing businesses and jobs.

In short, we see properties zoned manufacturing as presenting valuable opportunities to attract new businesses with high-quality neighborhood jobs and strengthen economic development.

With questions/comments about zoning and/or for help with business attraction, please contact Steve Simmons, 773-929-5552 x2226, steve@northbranchworks.org

Image credit: Chicagoland Manufacturing Renaissance Council

Watch the State of Development along the North Branch

On February 18th, North Branch Works brought together developers and real estate brokers for a roundtable discussion about the future of development in our service area along the North Branch.

If you missed the State of Development along the North Branch, you can watch it here. And the power point presentation can be viewed here.

Infrastructure and transportation upgrades for new and existing businesses and the need to support the existing mixed-use environment emerged as major themes during the panel discussion.

Several specific infrastructure projects were discussed including the coming reconstruction of the Division Street Bridge, reinstating CTA Bus service on Elston and Clybourn Avenues, and plans to build a transitway connecting the Central Business District and the North Branch.

Panelists also emphasized the importance of the area continuing to attract new businesses while supporting existing ones to sustain the area as a great place to work and do business.

North Branch Works will continue to fight for our member businesses including industrial businesses, provide timely updates about the development projects featured in the webinar, and push for these crucial infrastructure upgrades.

If you haven’t already, it’s a great time to join North Branch Works as a member. We’ll connect you to grants, information about low-interest business loans, and companies in our network for business-to-business opportunities.

We can also provide customized support for businesses and nonprofits.

To join and with questions, please contact Steve Simmons, Director of Business and Economic Development, 773-929-5552 x2226, steve@northbranchworks.org

Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago preparing future workforce

For over a hundred years, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago (BGCC) have provided dynamic programing to young people, helping them to reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens.

One of the BGCC’s most effective initiatives is the Great Opportunities (GO) Program. It’s a six-week, subsidized workforce development program for youth between the ages of 16-24 that includes support services such as transportation, uniforms, work shoes, and health and drug screenings.

The GO Program connects youth with internships at companies so they can job shadow, gain valuable hands-on experience, and explore a variety of career paths. BGCC staff prepare and match youth with opportunities before asking the employer partner to interview them.

As a new member of North Branch Works, the BGCC seeks to form partnerships with member businesses, especially industrial companies, that can expose youth to high-quality jobs that pay family-sustaining wages without requiring advanced degrees.

Bringing a youth into your company is a great way to promote careers and your business, invest in Chicago’s future workforce, and ultimately, advance equitable neighborhoods.

And if your business hires a participant, you may be eligible for on-the-job training, which covers 50% of the youth’s wages if he or she is employed for at least six months.

We’re fortunate to have three Boys and Girls Clubs doing incredible work in our service area, including the Linda and Bill Gantz Club (2915 N. Leavitt Street) at Lathrop Homes led by Club Director Marco De La Rosa (pictured above).

The Linda and Bill Gantz Club regularly hosts community events that support children and families in our service area such as a Back-to-School Backpack Drive, a Thanksgiving Meal Drive with the Chicago Bears (see right), and a holiday gift exchange (see bottom left).

The BGCC welcomes the support and participation of NBW members and supporters in these events.

During the pandemic, the BGCC has pivoted to offering a combination of virtual and in-person opportunities that follow COVID-19 protocols such as requiring masks, social distancing, and cleaning surfaces regularly.

As a result, children without access to computers or experiencing difficulty with online learning can connect with a mentor and continue their education.

Another way you can support the BGCC is by joining its Club Champion Monthly Giving Program, which has donation options at $25, $35, $50, and $100.

North Branch Works is thrilled to welcome the BGCC as a new member. We’re excited about the GO Program and the opportunities it offers to promote jobs and companies in our service area.

With questions and to connect with the BGCC, please email: info@bgcc.org

If you work for a company and would like to participate as an employer partner in the GO Program, please contact Fannieleah Brown, Project Director, 312-226-2323, fbrown@bgcc.org

Image credit (top): Anne Evans, Active Transportation Alliance

Image credit (body): Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago 

Vision One Agency helps businesses & nonprofits tell unforgettable stories

After attending film school at Columbia College Chicago, Will Sullivan (pictured above middle) spent seven years working in various video ad productions, developing incredible marketing and communications skills in the process.

Now, as the owner and co-founder of Vision One Agency, he applies his passion for filmmaking by helping businesses and nonprofits elevate their brands through powerful storytelling.

Founded in March of 2020, Vision One Agency is a creative video agency that serves a wide range of clients in key markets of Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles. The company specializes in commercials, documentaries, social videos, stop motion animation, and short films.

The business overcame the challenges of opening right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic by stringing together a series of small projects designed to help restaurants and neighborhood businesses.

Regardless of where you find yourself in the creative process, Vision One Agency will tailor its approach to meet your needs. Indeed, the business prides itself on being able to help clients come up with innovative ideas and carry them through every stage of the production process with careful attention to details.

Vision One Agency’s dedicated and talented staff has expertise in video production, writing, editing, acting, and animation. Based in Bucktown, Will and his team are invested in the success of Chicago’s small and industrial businesses, nonprofits, and neighborhoods.

Some of Vision One Agency’s recent clients include Cresco Labs, Waterton Real Estate, Remy Martin, Coda di Volpe, and North Branch Works (to name a few).

It’s a great time to partner with Vision One Agency given the importance of hosting virtual events, they can assist in producing great storytelling content for your live streams, web, and social.

In fact, North Branch Works hired the company to produce video features of our members for our first-ever Fall Fundraiser.

Please see these incredible video features of North Branch Works and our members: Metropolitan Brewing, mHub Chicago, and Guild Row.

In our case, we had a talented interviewer and three member businesses lined up; Vision One Agency helped us with the production and editing of these videos as well as thinking through our virtual program.

North Branch Works is thrilled to welcome Vision One Agency as one of our newest member businesses. The company is the only video production agency in our network; we highly recommend working with Will and his team.

Vision One Agency would love to network with and support its fellow North Branch Works member businesses and nonprofits. The business is open to working with organizations that have limited budgets.

To see its latest projects, please follow the company on Instagram and Facebook.

To connect with Vision One Agency, please reach out to Will Sullivan, Co-Founder, 312-566-8534, will@v1a.co.

Image credits: Vision One Agency

SYNLawn of Chicago joins North Branch Works

For over ten years, SYNLawn of Chicago has improved quality of life by supplying and installing a variety of high-quality products such as synthetic turf, green walls, rubber surfacing, and sports tiles.

An affiliate of AstroTurf, the company launched in 2010 due to the emergence of a commercial and residential market for artificial turf. We’re fortunate to have this neighborhood business in the North Branch as it is the licensed distributor of SYNLawn products to Illinois.

Located at 2632 W. Barry Avenue (pictured above), SYNLawn has twenty-five synthetic grass products in its showroom that can solve many challenging livability issues. And if you visit in person, you can rest assured the company is following strict COVID-19 protocols such as requiring face masks and social distancing.

Installing synthetic grass in your home or office creates many benefits including reduced energy costs as well as saving time and energy on lawn maintenance.

SYNLawn’s talented and experienced staff can help you design and carry out improvement projects such as roof-decks, dog parks, landscaping, and putting greens. Along with improving quality of life at home and/or for your employees, investing in amenities like roof-decks increases property values.

To help people enjoy the many health benefits of living in green spaces, the company sells artificial green walls (pictured below), which are designed for people who desire this experience and might not be able to invest the time and energy into maintaining a natural one. Many of SYNLawn’s green walls appear in offices and hospitality businesses throughout Chicago.

SYNLawn also offers rubber surfacing products that minimize injuries from falls and accidents. This product line is ideal for playgrounds, athletic arenas, courts, and city parks.

And thanks to its production of sports tiles, the business can design and build projects such as indoor and outdoor basketball courts. Each tile is slip-proof, tailored to fit the exact space, and tough enough to survive the most extreme weather conditions.

SYNLawn cares deeply about Chicago neighborhoods and its fellow small businesses in the North Branch. During the pandemic last summer, the company partnered with local restaurants, helping them get through the worst of it by creating attractive green spaces for outdoor dining.

North Branch Works is proud to welcome SYNLawn of Chicago as one of our newest members. The company’s entire product line is manufactured in the United States; working with SYNLawn is a great way to support manufacturing and living-wage employment.

Currently, SYNLawn is offering free project estimates and would love to network with fellow North Branch Works members. And if you are a member, the company will provide you with discounted pricing.

To connect with SYNLawn, please contact Leo Alunan, Sales and Operations Manager, 773-857-5296 (Ext. 651), lalunan@synlawn.com

To request a free estimate, please go here.

Image credits: SYNLawn of Chicago

Join us for the State of Development along the North Branch on Feb. 18

With several major developments in various stages of completion, there’s no doubt the North Branch will continue to grow and evolve as a place to work and do business in the coming years.

We’ve organized a virtual panel discussion with developers who will share the latest updates on their projects to keep our member businesses, supporters, and neighborhood stakeholders informed.

We hope you’ll join us for The State of Development along the North Branch on Feb. 18 from 10-11:30 a.m. This zoom webinar will feature (pictured below from left) Lincoln Yards, the Salt District, Lathrop, Rockwell on the River, and 1308 N. Elston Avenue.

To register at no cost, please go here.


  • Fred Krol, Senior Counsel, Director of Government and Community Relations, Sterling Bay
  • Zack Cupkovic, Investments & Special Projects, R2 Companies
  • Sarah Wick, Vice President, Related Midwest
  • Paul Levy, Rockwell on the River
  • Ari Topper, Managing Director, Baum Realty Group


  • Jonathan Snyder, Executive Director, North Branch Works


Learn more about where these projects currently stand and take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions following the panel discussion.

If you have any questions, please contact Steve Simmons, Director of Business and Economic Development, 773-929-5552 x2226, steve@northbranchworks.org

Salt District to add jobs & strengthen economic development along North Branch

Last week, the Chicago Plan Commission approved plans to redevelop the Morton Salt facility, sending them to the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards for the next review.

A well-known landmark on the North Side, Morton Salt has long occupied a 4.25-acre property located on the west bank of the Chicago River running south from Blackhawk Street on Elston Avenue.

Led by developers R2 Companies and Blue Star Properties, the project will turn the site into a mixed-use office, retail, and entertainment complex, including a community-based venue and events space that can accommodate up to 3,000 people as well as future uses such as a farmers’ market.

The so-called Salt District will add approximately 285 permanent jobs and 41,500 square feet in new office space that will attract new businesses to our service area.  Just as important, the project will support the Goose Island manufacturing district east of the property.

It’s a great example of a dynamic, adaptive reuse project that supports neighborhood jobs and wealth creation by converting a vacant riverfront property into a jobs center.

Morton Salt is expected to keep its research and development team on-site, moving into a newly renovated office of 20,000 square feet.

In our discussions with the developers, we’re pleased they have expressed interest in working with surrounding businesses to ensure a seamless transition into the neighborhood.

And the project will make it easier to get around the area by adding separate riverfront trails for people walking and biking. These paths will eventually connect to a new pedestrian bridge over the river at Blackhawk Street that’s in the North Branch Framework Plan.

The trails will also create easy access for people on foot and bike to the Wild Mile Chicago, a 17-acre floating park coming to the North Branch Canal. The paths at this development will over time connect to riverfront trails at Lincoln Yards that will run between North and Webster Avenues.

Getting to the Salt District on bike will be relatively easy thanks to the bike lanes on Elston Avenue. And if you’re coming from the west, you’ll be able to get within a quarter mile of it by using the 606/Bloomingdale trail.

The project will also add a water taxi stop and a boat launch.

Would you like to learn more about the Salt District and the progress of development projects along the North Branch? Join us for The State of Development along the North Branch on Feb. 18 at 10 a.m. You can register at no cost here.

Image credit: R2 Companies

BIG grants strengthen local businesses along North Branch

In the past six months, seven neighborhood businesses in our service area received Business Interruption Grants (BIG) from the State of Illinois, bringing in a total of $355,000.

The award recipients are Bash Sports Academy, Calihan Catering, Gallery 1028, Goose Island Shrimp House, Hideout Chicago, Maplewood Brewing, and Metropolitan Brewing.

The State of Illinois made two rounds of BIG grants; North Branch Works staff fielded questions from our members, held a virtual meeting with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and encouraged as many of our members as possible to apply.

We’re thrilled to see financial resources coming to our member businesses during a time of tremendous need across Illinois. In some cases, these grants will help businesses survive the worst of the pandemic.

Even though these resources are flowing into our service area, it remains an incredibly important moment to support neighborhood businesses whenever possible.

And that’s another reason we’re working hard to expand our network of business members so we can foster mutually beneficial economic development that creates high-quality jobs and supports thriving businesses.

One of our top priorities remains to help our members obtain local, state, and federal grants. And we regularly do research and identify grants and other resources for business growth and development.

Receiving timely updates about resources, introductions to local businesses and nonprofits as well as help applying for grants are major benefits of joining North Branch Works as a member.

Stay tuned for information about the rollout of the second round of Paycheck Protection Program, which is expected to open to all businesses sometime during the week of January 18.

And start 2021 with the support of North Branch Works. Join us as a member, tap into our network of member businesses and nonprofits, and put our staff to work for you.

With questions and to join as a member, please contact Steve Simmons, 773-929-5552 x2226, steve@northbranchworks.org.

Wild Mile adds to dynamic North Branch of Chicago River

Adding green space along the North Branch would create an incredible neighborhood destination and support businesses, jobs, and local economic development.

The city has taken exciting steps toward this vision with the Wild Mile Chicago, a 17-acre floating park in the North Branch Canal.

Approved in the North Branch Framework Plan, the floating park will run in-stream from North Avenue south to Chicago Avenue directly behind area businesses such as Whole Foods and REI.

North Branch Works is thrilled to support this initiative, which has been led by the Chicago Department of Planning and Development and two of our partners, Urban Rivers, and the Near North Unity Program.

The Wild Mile will create vibrant open spaces and world-class wildlife sanctuaries along the North Branch that support job creation, thriving shopping districts and incredible recreational and educational opportunities.

It’s great to see the city prioritizing this part of the North Branch given nearby developments that will further neighborhood economic development, including riverfront trails at Lincoln Yards and Lathrop Homes, and the eventual completion of the 312 RiverRun Trail.

A local nonprofit, Urban Rivers, is working hard to implement the Chicago Department of Planning and Development’s Wild Mile Framework Plan.

Over the last several years, Urban Rivers staff organized a broad community coalition of stakeholders to work on the project, led community trash cleanups including one with Waste Management, conducted research studies, and spearheaded fundraising efforts.

Currently, the first phase of the floating gardens has been completed; it’s expected the construction of walkways along the North Branch Canal will be finished by the end of 2021.

So what are the next steps and how can you get involved? You can support the Wild Mile by signing up for updates and joining Urban Rivers as a member.

And Urban Rivers is seeking corporate volunteers with ambitious plans for volunteer projects as soon as they can be carried out safely.

For corporate and group volunteering opportunities, please reach out to Nick Wesley (pictured below left), co-founder and Director, 708-606-0637, nick@urbanriv.org.

Image credit (top): Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Image credit (below): Kaylie Slack, The Columbia Chronicle

A reflection from NBW Executive Director Jonathan Snyder

As this year is winding to a close, I want to thank all of members and partners who worked with us to overcome the numerous challenges we faced this year.  Like you, I had high hopes for a year of growth with businesses creating new job opportunities in a strong economy.  Our expectations quickly turned to disappointments as the biggest public health crisis in over 100 years tore through our country.  Our hearts go out to everyone who has suffered the loss of family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.  The disruption caused by the pandemic will reverberate for years to come.

While we came together to address this one in a lifetime pandemic, the death of George Floyd and countless others laid bare the deep divisions that persist in this country.  Numerous people came together, including many business owners in the North Branch, to peacefully protest the horrific racism that continues, and then we tragically witnessed people take advantage of peaceful protests leading to substantial destruction throughout our communities.  We join with others to condemn racism and the politics of divisiveness.

Despite the challenges we have faced, I remain hopeful for a brighter 2021.  New businesses continue to open, and we will work with them to overcome barriers, attract capital, and create jobs.  We will work with our partners in the City, lenders, and community groups to make sure that existing businesses can continue to protect their staff and serve their customers.  We will advocate for infrastructure resources, grants, and policies that enable our communities to thrive.  We will continue to support the creation of high-quality, family-sustaining jobs in the manufacturing and industrial sectors, while also supporting small businesses to open and grow.  The North Branch is a great area in which to have a business, and we urge you to join us as a member so that we can continue to build a better Chicago.

On behalf of the Board of Directors and our staff, I wish you Happy Holidays and a safe, healthy, and prosperous new year!