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Chicago Tribune

A new Chicago nonprofit hopes to establish the city's reputation as the Silicon Valley of the food and beverage industry by partnering with local businesses to address regional concerns.

The Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network, backed by World Business Chicago and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, launched Tuesday at a Kendall College event. Though it's just getting started, the group intends to secure funding for a new food manufacturing institute to train workers, said Alan Reed, executive director for the Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network.

The Chicago area, home to giants of the food and beverage industry like Kraft Heinz, Mondelez International, Beam Suntory and MillerCoors, also boasts a growing number of small and midsized food companies, Reed said. Working together to develop the workforce would benefit all, he said.

Ultimately, the network could be a catalyst for decent-paying jobs in economically depressed Chicago neighborhoods, he said. But first, the nonprofit has to convince food and beverage companies, some of whom are competitors, to work together.

"Everyone loves the idea but says, 'I'm not sure who's in charge of that in our company.' ... It's going to take a minute to bring all the parties together," Reed said.

With regards to the proposed manufacturing institute, the nonprofit is seeking foundation funding to help develop the concept before trying to partner with businesses, he said. The Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network is teaming up with Instituto del Progreso Latino on that effort.

Such an institute could train workers new to the industry, as well as providing midcareer training on new technology and skills, Reed said.

More generally, the network hopes to convene and collaborate with food and beverage businesses on workforce development, food safety and business services. The Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network received initial funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

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