Manufacturing Hub

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Wheeling is one of Illinois’ most exciting manufacturing success stories. It boasts the fifth largest concentration of manufacturing businesses in the state of Illinois, trailing only Chicago, Elk Grove Village, Rockford and Elgin – in that order.

“Wheeling is attractive to manufacturers because of the many facilities we have available, but also because we are so close to I-294, commuter and freight rail lines and both O’Hare International Airport and the Chicago Executive Airport,” said John Melaniphy, director of economic development for the Village of Wheeling. “In addition, we have a wonderful labor pool here, which is extremely important to employers. Communities that are farther from the city cannot attract the kind of labor that we can attract.”

And the village has nearly 14 million square feet of industrial space where manufacturers like Hidden Valley Manufacturing, Reynolds Consumer Products, Penray, Creation Technologies, SG360°, Block & Co, Handi-Foil, Valspar, Wieland Metals, Argon Medical Devices, Durable Packaging, Richelieu Foods, Keats Manufacturing and Tool King Inc. all have a presence.

More industrial and logistics space is also under construction or has recently been completed. Hamilton Partners constructed a 181,000-square-foot industrial structure at 720 Northgate Parkway, the former site of Frito-Lay. They recently sold the facility to a New York investor who plans to lease it to a user specializing in warehouse/distribution functions.

In addition, the Sitex Group and Missner Group have joined forces to construct a state-of-the-art 84,000-square-foot industrial building at 1075 S. Chaddick St., the former site of an ABF Trucking yard. They are targeting large warehouse/distribution/logistics companies to become possible tenants.

“These are the first new warehouse/industrial spaces we have had built in Wheeling in over two decades.” Melaniphy said. “We are very pleased to have a total of 265,000 square feet of prototypical industrial/logistics space being built to meet the needs of modern companies.”

Existing Wheeling companies are also adding space and making improvements.

For instance, Richelieu Foods has recently added both employees and production lines to their Wheeling facility and SG360°, a large direct marketing/mail printing company, has expanded to 900 employees, making it Wheeling’s largest employer.

New firms have also moved into Wheeling, largely thanks to Cook County’s Class 6B tax incentives, Melaniphy said.

“We have recruited Swiss Precision Machining Inc. to move here from Skokie. They make dental and medical instruments,” he said. “And Chris Industries moved from Northbrook into a vacant facility in Wheeling. They make custom metal architectural/roofing products.”

W.B.M. Inc. also moved from Elk Grove Village to a 30,000-square-foot facility at 112 Carpenter Ave. in Wheeling in order to take advantage of those 6B tax incentives. They are a custom product CNC machining shop that manufactures components for the aerospace and medical industries.

Senju America, Inc., a small firm that makes solder powder and paste for use in the automotive and electronics industries, has also announced an intention to move from Mundelein to 1200 S. Wolf Road in Wheeling. They are anxious to locate closer to other Japanese firms and also want to take advantage of the 6B tax incentive, Melaniphy said.

“Using this 6B tax incentive we have managed to backfill over one million square feet of empty space in Wheeling in recent years. We are now down to under a four percent building vacancy in the village,” he said.

“If a property has been empty for 24 contiguous months, we can get the tax incentive from the County for 12 years because everyone wants such facilities put back into productive use,” he added.

Success in attracting new companies also depends on where the CEO happens to live. Melaniphy said industrial leaders are always interested in less challenging commutes, as well as good schools for their children. They also want close proximity to large labor pools, their company’s suppliers and other similar companies so that they can establish fruitful business-to-business relationships—all assets that Wheeling can provide to help industry and commerce thrive.

“We also have a great mix of housing at many price points. We have affordable apartments where the hourly workers can live, affordable single family homes for management and we are a short commute from Lake Forest and the other North Shore communities where top management may choose to live,” he added.

He also cites Harper Community College and Wheeling High School, both of which are working to expose students to the advantages of working in modern manufacturing and training them to do so through job fairs, plant tours, workshops, courses, degrees, internships and apprenticeships.

The Wheeling-Prospect Heights Chamber of Commerce and Industry also has an Industry and Manufacturing Committee that began as a subgroup and now has grown. It works to support current manufacturers and create further synergies by attracting additional manufacturers. Manufacturers who are active in the Wheeling-Prospect Heights Chamber of Commerce and Industry are some of Wheeling’s most ardent cheerleaders.

Argon Medical Devices, a manufacturer of medical devices such as bone marrow and biopsy needles, as well as drainage catheter needles, moved to Wheeling from Skokie about 18 years ago. They had previously been known as Manan Medical, according to Karen Silverberg, Argon’s North American Director of Human Resources.

The 300-plus employee firm is pleased with Wheeling’s proximity to various modes of transportation for its goods but is challenged by the shortage of public transportation for prospective shift work employees, Silverberg noted.

High Chicago area wages and a shortage of young people interested in manufacturing jobs have prompted Argon to invest more heavily than others in robotics. They are also working through High School District 214 and the Illinois Department of Employment Security to recruit additional workers and to convince parents that manufacturing can be a great career for their young adult children.

“Manufacturing is not what it used to be. It’s cleaner, more efficient, and offers diversity and the ability to grow within the industry,” said Matthew Eggemeyer, Chief Operating Officer of Keats Manufacturing Company. “Manufacturers across the nation talk about a skills gap, but I see it differently. At Keats Manufacturing, we invest in people and train them with skills that go beyond what you learn in school. Only time will tell if this is a success. Along with other manufacturers in the region, we are rethinking manufacturing by making it accessible, profitable, and relevant.”

As manufacturing evolves, those in the industry are working together to find solutions to common issues. “The more and more we tour the different manufacturers, the more we realize we all have something in common. We face the same challenges,” said Peter Hestad, president of Tool King Inc. and chair of the Industry and Manufacturing Committee. “By getting together, we end up helping each other. For instance, one member may need a roofer and another member shares a recommendation. We may compare insurance carriers or ways to recruit new talent. Together we are creating best business practices.”

The committee includes members who are not only in manufacturing, but also in finance, human resources, software engineering and other sectors who offer potential services to manufacturers and are interested in helping manufacturers thrive in Wheeling.

“I think the Industry and Manufacturing Committee membership will continue to go up and up. 15 years from now, I anticipate the membership to double,” Hestad said.

This is further evidence that manufacturing is strong and leaders in this sector will continue to be instrumental advocates for Wheeling’s prosperous industry and commerce.