Wheeling boasts the fifth largest concentration of manufacturing businesses in the state of Illinois, only trailing the likes of Chicago, Elk Grove Village, Rockford and Elgin.
Manufacturers with names like Reynolds, Handi-Foil, Valspar, Hidden Valley Manufacturing, Penray, Creation Technologies, SG360°, Block & Co, Wieland Metals, Argon Medical Devices, Durable Packaging, Richelieu Foods, Keats Manufacturing, Tool King Inc. and Rand Manufacturing all have a presence in Wheeling.
“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,” states Matt Eggemeyer, Board of Directors President, and CEO of Keats Manufacturing. “In addition, we have a wonderful labor pool here which is extremely important to employers. Communities that are further from the city cannot attract the kind of labor that we can attract.”
“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, "explained Neena Pottoore, Executive Director of The Greater Wheeling Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Eggemeyer also points at Wheeling High School and Harper Community College, 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 growth in advanced manufacturing that Wheeling is experiencing is an example of what we hope to see across our entire state,” stated Sean McCarthy, Director of the Illinois Department of Commerce.
“Wheeling is taking advantage of the assets it has to attract growth and investment and produce good paying jobs and a stronger community. The goal of our administration remains creating a more business-friendly environment to support the potential that exists here in Illinois. I am proud of the work Wheeling has done, and I hope we can continue to work together to help communities across our state find the same success.”
The Greater Wheeling Chamber of Commerce also has an Industry and Manufacturing Committee which works to support current manufacturers and create further synergies by attracting additional manufacturers who are active in the Greater Wheeling Chamber of Commerce & Industry are some of Wheeling’s most ardent cheerleaders.
Neal Katz owns a small flexible manufacturing firm in Wheeling called Rand Manufacturing. Rand does non-metallic die-cutting, tapes and adhesives, and precision machining and employs eight people.
“I believe that Wheeling is the best city in Cook County for manufacturing. It is centrally located; has great infrastructure which the Public Works department maintains better than any neighboring community; and its government is very well organized,” Katz stated.
He is also a huge advocate for the Chicago Executive Airport, which is a shared ownership with the Village Wheeling and City of Prospect Heights.
“It has grown exponentially over the years and the Illinois Department of Transportation recently named it the Number One reliever airport in the state. The fact that we have this caliber of private airport is one of the factors in having companies like Caterpillar locate nearby. The airport has helped this entire region grow because companies want to be able to fly their engineers and executives to their various facilities,” Katz, a former Airport Board of Directors, explained.
He also credits the labor pool for the number of businesses locating in and around Wheeling. Once they do some investigating, Katz said, companies discover that they can fill their jobs if they locate here, thanks to programs like the STEM program at Wheeling High School, Students there learn to run 3D printers, AutoCAD systems, hi-tech microscopes, CNC machines and much more.
“They are letting these kids know that you can make a very good living in manufacturing and that it is not your grandfather’s old machine shop. Wheeling businesses are making medical devices, cosmetics, foods and much more,” Katz explained.
Peter Hestad, owner of Tool King, Inc., has had his business in Wheeling since 1985. His 35 employees take coils of brass, steel and copper and change the width or the edge of the metal and then sell it to firms like Black and Decker (so they can make jigsaws), Pella (for use in their windows) and nearby Keats Manufacturing (for use in their electrical switches). They also export the metal they have customized to Canada, China, India, Mexico and Costa Rica.
“We love Wheeling. We can have customers fly into the Chicago Executive Airport and we can easily ship our product by either truck or rail from this location. In fact, we often ship huge amounts by rail and then put them on ships to places like Shanghai,” Hestad said.
“I always recommend and tout Wheeling to my friends. In fact, one of my friends recently purchased the building across the street from ours to move his metal products and services business –Christy Metals Inc. - to Wheeling from Northbrook,” he added.
Finally, there is Keats Manufacturing which has been in Wheeling since 1989. It is a metal stamping and tool and die maker that employs 125 people locally, making electrical parts for the automotive, defense, medical and appliance industries.
“Being in Wheeling gives us a great advantage and that is why we still call it our home base,” explained Matt Eggemeyer, Chief Operating Officer. “We like it that so many other companies nearby can provide us with services we need like electric plating, heat treating and specialty processes.”
The local labor pool is another huge advantage, according to Eggemeyer. Seventy-five percent of Keats employees live within five miles of the plant because the community is “a perfect hybrid of affordable but attractive housing and good schools. So, people often relocate here after we hire them.”
Eggemeyer is determined to enhance the labor pool for all area manufacturers so he is very involved with offering apprenticeship opportunities to young people through the Illinois Department of Employment Security’s Manufacturers Career Internship Program (MCIP) and through local schools.
“Manufacturing offers a great living and excellent benefits but sometimes young people have to try hospitality and retail first before they understand the advantages of working in manufacturing. I have hired 100 percent of the kids who have apprenticed for us through the Manufacturers Career Internship Program (MCIP),” he stated.
It is the type of program that will help Wheeling remain in the top tier of Illinois manufacturing communities in the years to come, Eggemeyer added.