Taste of Chicago

From July 5 to 9, Taste of Chicago (featuring 67 local food vendors) will take place at Grant Park.  While this is 2 less of the 2016 event, there are various new vendors including: Lawrence’s Fish & Shrimp and El Patron.

This year – for the first time – Taste of Chicago is collaborating with Humana (an insurance company).  The main goal of this partnership is to be able to provide vendors with the option of offering healthier foods, as opposed to the traditional heavy-calorific items.

This year there are six new food trucks at the festival also which is somewhat political since many owners of these trucks have taken up issue with the restaurant association and the city authorities feeling that they are being forced out of Chicago.

Advancing Affordable Housing in Chicago

Earlier this month there was significant advancement in the plan to develop affordable housing units in the same building as Chicago’s public libraries with the Mayor’s announcement as to which architects and developers won the bid for the project.  The Irving Park, Little Italy and West Rogers Park facilities will all have access to ground floor libraries which will give community members and tenants services such as: early childhood learning programs, homework assistance, and teen digital tools among others.

The project first began in October of last year. A collaborative effort was developed by the Chicago Housing Authority in conjunction with the Chicago Public Library.  The designs will – according to a statement – “break from the standard, cookie-cutter designs that are common to government buildings.”

In a report put out by the National Low Income Housing Coalition earlier this year Chicago was ranked at Number 37 for affordable housing availability.  Hopefully it’ll go up on the list with these upcoming projects.

Business Expansions in Chicago

There have been various movements with expansions, buyouts, M&As, etc. in the last few weeks in Chicago. Here we take a brief look at three of them: Trustwave, Amita Health and Periscope.

Trustwave – the firm that works in the cybersecurity industry – is about to hire around 100 new people for its Chicago office. In addition, an announcement was made about the upcoming internship program being developed alongside the City Colleges of Chicago. And this is just the start; by the end of 2017 Robert McCullen, company CEO anticipates a further 300 people to join the company headquarters in Chicago once construction is finished and the space is ready for this expansion. With around 400 employees in Chicago currently (and 1,700 globally) this is really a doubling of Chicago staff members.

Amita Health – Chicago’s third largest hospital system – is interested in putting up two medical office buildings (with a joint $55.3 million price tag) right near rival ones. This is at the same time that hospital systems throughout America are seeking to bolster the way they attract additional patients. One of the new facilities will be in Bartlett and the other in Woodridge and they would be the largest of the company’s nine hospitals.

And then there is Periscope – based in Minneapolis – is expanding to Chicago. One of America’s five biggest independent creative networks purchased Anthem Marketing Solutions, the Chicago-headquartered analytics and strategy firm. Anthem has been in the business for two decades already and focuses on both (diagnostic, predictive and prescriptive) analytics and (database marketing and consumer journey) mapping services. This new office in Chicago will become the fifth for Periscope. As company CEO Elizabeth Ross explained the company really is hoping to “help [its] clients spend less on paid media and the best way to do that is to expand analytics and prove you can deliver results through channels and methods that are less reliant on [traditional ad buys].”

The Price of Education

When education becomes so expensive for many of those working hard to make it happen, one has to start to wonder where society is headed.  Right now, Chicago seems to be encountering this.  The city has approached the Chicago Board of Education to borrow $389 million just to keep schools open until the end of the school year, while making the necessary deposits into teachers’ pension funds.

This price tag seems rather large.  Especially when you look at the fact that – to implement it – the Education Board itself will need to borrow against the money it owes in state grants to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) – all $467 million of it.

But then you take a look at the activities of the CPS in the tech sphere.  Being America’s third largest school district in the US (with over 380,000 students) has turned it into one of the most highly reputable, at least when it comes to advanced technology.  One example of this is Newton Bateman that has implemented the Google drill. Teachers and administrators at the school have been enlisted to Googlefy the classroom, promoting Google’s products, ultimately having students make regular use of Google Docs, Gmail, Chromebooks and more.

So while the city’s schools might on the one hand be in financial distress, if they continue classroom Googlification, they potentially could be well on their way to bolstering their image.

Parks and Recreation

A serious renovation has just begun at Humboldt Park. Piet Oudolf – who was behind the very successful upgrade of Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden – was chosen by the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Park Foundation and the Garden Conservancy to lead the Jens Jensen Formal Garden restoration project.  This will involve an overhaul of the decaying infrastructure and a re-invigoration of the design features, paralleling Jensen’s infamous Prairie style. Part of what Oudolf will incorporate is a “durable” design, containing Chicago’s seasons. The Hitchcock Design Group has been commissioned as design coordinator, so that the end result will be the creation of a “community of plants that work well together and look beautiful throughout the seasons.”

For those who want to enjoy the fun parts of Chicago’s parks, the summer is the perfect time to start.  Earlier this month saw the start of Night Out in the Parks, marking Ellis Park’s fifth summer season of performances and interactive shows.  Featuring around 1,200 events, there will be something for each of Chicago’s 77 community areas.  And within the bounds of community spirit, 125 local artists and art organizations will be participating in these shows, most of which are free.

Meanwhile, to mark its 90th birthday, representatives from the Chicago Park District were at Grant Park turning on the Buckingham Fountain.  Participating in the celebratory event were both the Brookfield Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium.  In addition, those who want to memorialize the 90th birthday forever, can purchase a 1,000 pound chunk of marble for a mere $22,000….plus $299 shipping! Get in touch with Stuart Grannen of Architectural Artifacts for more details.

Boost for Chicago Businesses

With the announcement that three Chicago-based firms are being chosen to lead the Obama Presidential Center’s project management team, the reputation for successful, thriving businesses in the region is taking a positive spin. In this role, the team will be in charge of the establishment and guidance of the processes needed to ensure the center is being both designed and developed simultaneous to budget, schedule and technical stipulations as set out by the foundation.

The three firms – Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), McKissack & McKissack and Ardmore Associates – will each bring something else to the project. JLL has the capacity to provide the project with will bring “industry-leading practices” vis-à-vis the library’s design and construction; and the other two firms have a strong niche in the African-American community as well as the Ardmore Associates being a women-owned professional services company.

Meanwhile, over in the software industry, ActiveCampaign is set to add a further 225 employees to its ranks over the next two years, more than tripling the size of its headquarters.

With such recognition and expansion of businesses in the area, Chicago looks like its setting the pace for other regions nationwide.

 

3rd Annual Small Business Forum

Two days ago, Fox Valley SCORE hosted its 3rd Annual Small Business Forum. Since Americans seem to be increasingly switching from employee to employer (becoming their own bosses), a greater need has emerged for the know-how to do this.  Learning about the political, social and economic consequences is crucial and these forums – attended by local experts – set out to assist in the matters.

The event took place at the Northern Illinois University Conference Center (in Naperville) from 8.30am to 2.30pm, and, as in the past, successfully presented take-away tools for small businesses to “advance and grow into thriving enterprises.”  Topics covered included: plan building, how to start, product/service pricing, cash flow management.  As well, participants were able to network with other SME owners to exchange information and support each other.

Keynote speaker was Anderson’s Bookshops and Anderson’s Bookfair’s co-owner, Becky Anderson whose topic was the impact on the local community of small businesses.  As a fifth generation family business manager (which started back in 1875 in Napervile) Anderson was President of the American Booksellers Association  for seven years and a year ago started her four-year term on the Naperville City Council.  Her mantra of “put your money where your heart is – home,” has resulted in her making her a true “treasure to her business and community.”

Chicago’s New Developments

Chicago will soon be home to the world’s largest ever Starbucks.  In 2019, North Michigan Avenue will have a Starbucks Reserve Roastery measuring 43,000 square feet, spanning four floors, offering customers a “fully sensorial coffee environment dedicated to roasting, brewing and packaging.”

The Mayor is wholly supportive of this move, seeing the benefit of the city’s “Magnificent Mile,” which he said “brings in millions of visitors from across this globe.”  Rahm Emanuel thus believes it to be the  perfect location for a world-class coffee destination.”  Further, for the economy as a whole it is a positive move, given that it is making a large investment in Chicago and will be of benefit to locals as well.

The development has been received by other business people as well.  For example, Crate and Barrel founder Gordon Segal, commented that it will have a “unique way of becoming a beacon for a brand.”  He added that he “can’t think of a better retailer than Starbucks to offer Chicago something new and exciting with its Reserve Roastery.”

Other developments in progress include: One Bennett Park (a 70-floor tower at 451 E. Grand that started building last spring) designed by Robert A.M. Stern, a New York architect; Optima Chicago Center II a 57-story tower at 220 East Illinois.

 

Earnings and Stock Price Up for United Despite Violent Treatment of Passenger

An United Airlines Boeing 767-300 gets loaded at Chicago O’Hare (KORD/ORD) for the flight to Europe. Photo by Lasse Fuss

Although United Airlines has had a rough time this past month dodging bullets in response to last week’s violent treatment of a passenger, quarterly earnings were higher than expected.

United Continental Holdings Inc was forecast to earn 38 cents per share in the first quarter of 2017 by Wall Street analysts. Instead, the major airline company posted 41 cents per share. Revenue was up to $8.42 billion, a 2.7 percent increase from last year, and better than the predicted $8.38 billion.

“In the first quarter of 2017, our financial and operational performance gives us a lot of confidence about the foundation we are building,” stated Oscar Munoz, CEO.

United’s stock closed on Monday afternoon up 2 percent, to $70.77 from its close on Friday. The stock rose even higher in after-hours trading, reaching $71.55 per share, almost back to its previous price before the incident of April 9.

The incident involved cell-phone videos depicting a bloodied passenger being dragged off a United flight by policemen to make room for United personnel. Without venturing into whether United was within their legal rights to call law enforcement to force the man off the plane, the bad publicity was not good for the stock price.  Yet, it seems to have taken only a bit more than a week for the shares to bounce back, and the company’s revenues did even better than expected.

The company said that it is hoping for improved customer service in the future.

“It is obvious from recent experiences that we need to do a much better job serving our customers,” Munoz said. “The incident that took place aboard Flight 3411 has been a humbling experience, and I take full responsibility. This will prove to be a watershed moment for our company, and we are more determined than ever to put our customers at the center of everything we do. We are dedicated to setting the standard for customer service among U.S. airlines, as we elevate the experience our customers have with us from booking to baggage claim.”