Original content posted at  http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20170404/NEWS07/170409979       

Crain's Chicago Business: Food and beverage manufacturing already racks up $32 billion a year in the Chicago area. A new nonprofit, Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network, wants to see that number get even bigger.

Chicago is an “economic cluster” for the food and beverage industry, just as Hollywood is a cluster for entertainment and Silicon Valley is a cluster for technology, says Alan Reed, executive director of the newly formed Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network. The initiative was announced today and its first meeting is scheduled for today at Kendall College in Chicago. Reed, the nonprofit's sole paid employee to date, most recently was executive vice president of strategy and innovation at Dairy Management in Rosemont, an organization that aims to help increase sales and demand for dairy products.

The network focuses on what Reed calls “the middle ground” of the food supply chain—not agriculture, and not retail outlets such as grocery stores and restaurants, but food packaging and processing plants. The network plans to boost that slice of the industry's presence in Chicago, and at the same time create jobs in economically underdeveloped areas of the city.

For its first initiative, the network is working with Instituto del Progreso Latino, a West Side nonprofit, to develop Career Pathways in Food Manufacturing, a curriculum that could serve as the foundation for a food-manufacturing training institute. “Food and beverage manufacturers are concerned about their labor force moving forward,” Reed says. The training institute would “meet the needs of the industry and do something incredible for the neighborhoods,” he says. The area's 4,500 food and beverage manufacturing firms employ 130,000 people.

The network does not include restaurant partners, such as the Illinois Restaurant Association, but might in the future. “We hope there would be natural synergies over time” with such groups, Reed says.

World Business Chicago and Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce are key partners in the network, which has applied for 501 (c) 3 status. Theresa Mintle, CEO of the chamber and Jeff Malehorn, CEO of World Business Chicago, serve on the board of the network. “Chicago has been a hub for food production and distribution in three centuries,” said Mintle in the release announcing the initiative. “This new vision for collaboration across the modern supply chain, plus stakeholders from colleges to city neighborhoods, could help create the next great era in innovation and opportunity.”

Board members from the industry include Alejandro Silva, former chairman and CEO of Chicago-based Evans Food Group, maker of pork-rind products, and Ricardo Alvarez, CEO, Raymundo's Food Group, the Bedford Park manufacturer of gelatin-based and pudding snacks.

MacArthur Foundation and JPMorgan Chase Foundation provided initial funding of just less than $1 million, Reed says. Other partners include Cook County, the nonprofit Family Farmed, Industrial Corridor of Nearwest Chicago, Instituto del Progreso Latino, Illinois Institute of Technology, the Institute for Food Safety & Health and the Chicago section of the Institute of Food Technologists.



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