Chicago-Area CEOs Are Creating Economic Opportunities in Disinvested Areas – And It’s Good for Business
Three Chicago CEOs share their approaches to anchoring economic growth.
- April 17, 2023
- Rustandy Center - Students
Caroline Grossman: Hi everyone. Welcome. It is always so nice to see so many familiar faces and so many new faces. So thank you so much for joining us at tonight's event, Innovating for Social Equity: Anchoring Economic Growth in Chicago. I'm Caroline Grossman, I'm executive director of Chicago Booth's Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, the social impact hub here at Chicago Booth, at the business school, and I'm also an adjunct associate professor at Booth.
This year, the Rustandy Center is celebrating our 10th anniversary as the social impact hub at Booth. And we are here for people committed to tackling complex social and environmental problems. I am myself a Booth alum. I am celebrating my 20th reunion year this year. The Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary, which means that it was not here when I was a student and there's really nothing, maybe, my kids aren't here, so maybe them, but other than them, there's really nothing that I am more proud of than that this center exists,l and I assure you they're not streaming this event.
So in any case, we're really an integral part of the university's social impact and entrepreneurship ecosystems. We promote research, we hold programs, we support courses all, events like this, all that come together to really help make the world a better place. We launched the Innovating for Social Equity Series to examine a central question. With billions spent by public, private, nonprofit organizations, why do profound disparities still exist?
That's really the core of the question that exists. And previous sessions in the Innovating for Social Equity Series have examined the role of philanthropy, private market investors, entrepreneurs, impact investors, global business leaders in addressing social inequity. This evening's conversation is particularly timely in that we are here in between celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month is ahead of us. So this series is an important part of how we address racial and economic diversity here in the City of Chicago and beyond.
So I am delighted to have three outstanding corporate leaders as panelists today as we look at the role of our business sector here in Chicago as part of the question of social equity. So we are joined by Roger Hochschild, the CEO and president of Discover, by Gil Quiniones, the CEO of ComEd, and by Scott Santi, chairman and CEO of Illinois Tool Works. We're especially fortunate to have our moderator here, Derek Douglas, my former colleague, but still my colleague 'cause you're an executive and residence at the Rustandy Center. But Derek is president of the Civic Committee and Commercial Club of Chicago and Civic and Economic Impact executive and residence at the Rustandy Center.
And Derek, I said my former colleague, because he was most recently the vice president for Civic Engagement and External Affairs at the University of Chicago. And prior to that, served on the White House Domestic Policy Council and Special Assistant to President Barack Obama for urban affairs. Many thanks to Derek for helping to put tonight's panel together. We greatly appreciate that you're here and we are going to turn it over to Derek in just a few minutes, but I wanted to let everyone know that we will have plenty of time for questions. So please do, please do, you know if you have questions, we'll be circulating a microphone to ask questions live. So with that, I will turn it over to Derek and our speakers. Welcome.
Derek Douglas: Thank you. Thank you very much. Can everyone hear me okay?
Derek Douglas: Okay, first of all, thank you all for being with us this evening. I'm really excited about the panel that we're going to have and the conversation we're going to have. I got to thank Caroline first and the Rustandy Center as she mentioned for 10 years before I came to the Civic Committee, I was at the University of Chicago. And my job was to think about ways in which the university could have impact in the city. And I would say that one of our strongest partners within the university was the Rustandy Center and the leadership of Caroline, Caroline and others there has been tremendous. I think tonight's panel is just an example.
What we're going to talk about tonight is this idea of anchoring development in the neighborhoods and in the communities in Chicago. And I think it's a really important topic. It's one that I'll tell you that we at the Civic Committee have been thinking about and Roger and Scott who are on the Civic Committee, Gil as well, have been helpful to us in thinking about ways which the business community can get more engaged.
When a lot of people think about anchor institutions, you traditionally think about the eds and the meds. You know, we were at the University of Chicago anchoring the South Side, Rush on the West Side. They're there, they're not going anywhere.They're big employers, they're big economic engines. But I think what we have tonight and what we're going to hear about tonight is an increasing energy, excitement, and movement around corporations looking at this idea of how they can also be anchors in neighborhoods on the South and the West Sides of Chicago. And what is the role of companies to also play that role, what are some of the unique challenges and opportunities that they see.
Caroline did reference the inequities that we have in Chicago, and I think I'd be remiss if we didn't point out that when you look at what's happening around economic opportunity in the South and West Sides versus other parts of the city, it does tell a tale of two stories. With some of the work we've been doing at the Civic Committee, we were looking at this question of jobs and job opportunities in South and West Sides. And one of the consultants working with us, look at the top 20 cities in America in terms of population and Chicago rank 19th out of 20th in terms of the disparity between the unemployment rate for whites versus the unemployment rate for Black and brown people. And if you just looked at the Black unemployment rate, Chicago had the highest unemployment rate among the top 20 cities, and on Latino, it was second highest.
So the reality is, in Chicago we have challenges that we have to really address and the government can't do it alone, universities can't do it alone, nonprofits can't do it alone, the corporate sector, the business sector is a critical part and it really takes all of us working together. So that's what we're going to get into tonight and I want to just thank the three of you for accepting on the first phone call that you would be here with us tonight.
So why don't we start with the question for each of you and in speaking to it, if you could both introduce yourself, but also describe a little bit about your story and your company's story and your efforts to anchor economic growth in the neighborhoods that you've partnered with. And we'll start right on my left with you, Roger.
Roger Hochschild: Sure, so Roger Hochschild, very excited to be here with you guys this evening and looking forward to the questions. You know, for Discover, we're up in Riverwoods, and so traditionally, have not done much in the city, but starting in 2019, I have been thinking about the corporate site selection process and how it perpetuates systemic bias.
And it isn't that companies say, "We're not going to put headquarters in Black and brown neighborhoods," but that's what happens, right? Companies will say, "Well, we want to go somewhere with the best infrastructure, with the best schools." Well, that means somewhere with the very high tax base and property values. And so companies all around the country make the same decisions, right?
You look at Amazon, right? For those of you who know D.C., they should have put their headquarters in Anacostia, right? Or somewhere that really needed those jobs, but they didn't. And so what really sort of kicked me over the edge, I went and heard Ibram Kendi speak about how to be an anti-racist. I thought about how lucky I was to have the platform I do. And I said, "Okay, that's it. We're going to put a call center. 'Cause that's what we do at Discover. We have great call centers here in the U.S. We're going to put a call center somewhere on the South or West Side of Chicago and opened the center down in Chatham.
Derek Douglas: Wonderful. Gil?
Gil Quiniones: Yeah, Gil Quiniones with ComEd. I started in November of 2021. I come from New York, New York City. ComEd, we power the lives of Northern citizens, and residents of Northern Illinois. Think of our southern border as about 100 miles south of Chicago.nWe go all the way up to Wisconsin and Iowa. It's about 11,400 square miles, 70% of the population of our state, about 9.4 million residents. The ultimate place-based company. We are literally connected to every home and businesses.
Any complaints so - So we are very much engaged in our neighborhoods and communities, but especially now because of the energy transition that's happening, the move towards renewable energy, the move towards electrification of everything, whether it's transportation, buildings and homes. We now really play a bigger role. The question is how do we do that so that there is, we don't create the energy haves and have nots along this energy transition. And ComEd has been laser-focused on that, on that job.
Our state passed a very progressive, I would say, nation-leading climate law in September of 2021st called the Climate Equitable Jobs Act. And in that law, we are required to have 40% of our benefits go to equity investment eligible communities, basically, communities that are, environmental justice communities that are historically under-resourced and the disadvantage from the perspective of climate change.
About a week ago we filed our five-year grid investment plan and our rate plan to our regulators, the Illinois Commerce Commission. And in that plan you will see very clearly that we are making our grid investments to prepare the grid in this energy transition, all of our energy efficiency, STEM, workforce development, supplier diversity in to make sure that they are targeted towards, under-resourced and disadvantaged communities. So interested in talking more about that.
Derek Douglas: Yeah, we'll get more into that. Scott?
Scott Santi: Well, good evening everybody. It's great to be here. I'm Scott Santi with a company called ITW. Anybody heard of ITW? Well, that I'm shocked that that- That's great. We are a 110-year-old company founded here in Chicago and currently have a global manufacturing business with roughly 50,000 people throughout the world. I would say, and I've been there for my entire career, so, which is almost 40 years now. And one of the things that I've always appreciated is, the company's always had a really strong ethos around giving back.
And for most of my career that was really embodied in, you know, the sort of standard corporate philanthropy sort of using our resources to invest and support organizations doing great work. And I would say that about a decade ago we started to become a little less than fully satisfied with that work only because we weren't involved enough from the standpoint of actually seeing impact through, we were making investments in, again, great organizations, but ultimately, didn't have a direct stake in a lot of that work. And so, our thinking started to evolve in terms of how we could at least take some, you know, decent component of that investment and really direct it in areas where we could leverage our economic ecosystem for good as opposed to investing.
We started with an investment in a STEM high school on the West Side that was, that today is producing 250 high school graduates, 96% of whom are first time college entrance in about 96, 97% are going out to college from there. So that was sort of our initial anchor on the West Side. And really the idea we're working now is to see if we can, again, leverage our economic
ecosystem as a company in ways where we can focus some of that investment around not just education, but now manufacturing actually on the West Side.
Can we stimulate, can we, you know, can we put some of our own jobs in there? Can we stimulate a supplier base around those manufacturing jobs? And we could sort of talk some more about what form that's taking at some point. But essentially have committed $40 million to buying a building and ultimately, and building out that ecosystem over the next five years.
Derek Douglas: So we're going to get into each of the projects in a little bit greater detail, but I want to first see if you can, I'll start with you again, Roger, take us behind the curtain of what's involved with making a decision like this. I would have to presume, you know, I don't know how many call centers you have across thse U.S., but to make a decision of making that kind of placement, it's a big decision involves many people within the company.
How do you, did you face resistance to make this move? What was your thought process and what did you have to do to kind of position your employees, your board to, they're going to go all in this kind of way?
Roger Hochschild: Yeah, so it was a bit of a counterintuitive decision because we didn't need a new call center. We actually had one in Columbus, Ohio, that was about 50% occupancy. We were already starting, I mean, even prior to the pandemic, agents, about 25% of agents were working from home. So that part was a bit counterintuitive. I just said this was something we're going to do and was convinced that it would work out and be the right thing and then people would push variations, right?
Well, there's a lot of great real estate in River North, but I think part of the vision was, I think, only large companies can bring jobs at scale into the community. And there's a big difference between employing from the community and bringing the jobs there in terms of the work-life balance and commutes your employees have, but also in stimulating greater economic activity.
And so when I was down for the announcement, I met a woman who ran a nail salon across the street. She was really excited that we were going to bring a thousand people right across from her nail salon. Yeah, we're working with over 20 local restaurants who had never done business with a big company, but we provide lunch every day for the employees and made our provider, Sodexo, work with the local restaurants. And so that was the vision.
Took a while to get everyone on board. I would say for the board of directors, they did not ask once what it cost. They were enthusiastic from the beginning. We've already had a board meeting down there and they're all really excited. So I think they're, you know, sometimes these decisions look riskier than they are. And I think, you know, I like to say, and it's really true, we have benefited as a company so much more than Chatham. It's an honor for us to be in that community.
Derek Douglas: Do you think, just to follow-up that, and speak a little bit to the success of the call center because there's this notion of, this was great that Discover did it, it's a nice charitable thing giving back, but maybe not as much of understanding as how it affected you from a business perspective.
So speak to that and given the way things have turned out, is it something you would look at doing in maybe in another places? Or is it a one off type of thing?
Roger Hochschild: Sure, so, just, you know, we are probably the only major bank with 100% U.S. based customer service. That's always been part of our model. We invest very, very heavily in call centers. And you know, even in this day of mobile devices, you've all had that experience when you fall off the happy path and there is no one there to help you.
And if you're our Discover customers-
Scott Santi: That's more than the first call if I can get through that-
Roger Hochschild: Yeah, yeah.
Scott Santi: That robot.
Roger Hochschild: There will be someone helpful right there and so it's important. The Chatham Center is performing on par with all of our other centers. Exactly even, which is amazing given how new it is other than in attrition, and attrition is about 40% less. And so that really drives your cost structure 'cause you have less training. So it's a huge business success for us and I think reflects the fact and, you know, you need to think differently about how you do business.
I'm part of the corporate coalition and working with other companies, you just have to forget everything you've learned and be willing and committed and you know, it was on one hand a very easy decision because I was that confident in the talent of the people we'd find. And we've seen broader benefits.
You know, I was talking with an engineer who joined Discover over another company because she wanted to work for a company that actually was doing things at driving change. She isn't working in Chatham, she's working in Riverwoods. But she picked us over a very competitive offer from a tech company. So it's really transformed our thoughts around diversity, equity, inclusion, and it's now our model.
So in Columbus, we've moved our center to an economically disadvantaged area outside of Columbus and we're doing the same thing. We're looking for the right location in Phoenix. We'll be moving our center to probably an economically disadvantaged Latino community in Phoenix. And this will be part of our model in terms of how we do business.
Derek Douglas: Great. Gil, so you have a project that you're working on in Bronzeville. I saw Bruce Montgomery here somewhere. Yeah. I don't know if he's still here. There he is in the back.
Gil Quiniones: Yeah.
Derek Douglas: He was the first person to introduce me to it. Can you talk a little bit more specifically about it and also touch on how you engaged the community and the engagement process to both socialize and to what you wanted? How's that partnership going? Any challenges there, successes?
Gil Quiniones: Will do. So about 10 minutes from here in Bronzeville, ComEd helped develop what's called a microgrid, which is a grid for the community. So that just in case, which is probably not going to happen, just in case our grid goes down, that neighborhood can be powered up and sustained itself. And we did it by integrating renewable energy.
So for example, the Dearborn Homes, which is part of the Chicago Housing Authority, put solar panels, there's battery storage in the area. We also put for now a modular natural gas generation system to support that, that microgrid, and a very sophisticated communication and control system so that that microgrid can interact with the bigger ComEd grid. Right from the beginning, the development of that microgrid was really done, not just from a ComEd engineering top-down, but a lot of input from the members of the community in Bronzeville. We created an advisory council, Bruce is a member of the advisory council. And we really discovered that frontline community members have excellent ideas on what they need.
So for example, we put in smart street lighting and that was a request, a feedback from the community. Last-mile electric vehicle, there's a nursing home close by and they wanted to be able to go to the grocery and the pharmacy. And so we were experimenting last-mile electric vehicle transportation. Charging station for multi-family homes so that when individuals purchase electric vehicles that they have readily accessible charging station, STEM programs with the high school in the community. And all of the contractors that we work with to build this micro grid. We just like what's, you know, what Scott has done. We require them to hire from individuals within the community.
Now the engineering side of this is also pretty cool because nearby is the Illinois Institute of Technology and they have their own microgrid for their campus and we develop a, we call microgrid controller, basically, a brain that make both microgrids talk to each other seamlessly and share resources. And that's very novel. It's replicable. So we're trying to recreate this model now in Rockford. So we're calling it part of our community of the future.
But what's really interesting, Derek, is the input from the community. And it's ongoing, this advisory council is still up and going 'cause it's really become a test bed for technologies on how you create this microgrid in corporate green and clean technologies, bring in, again, STEM, workforce development, bring in suppliers that are local based and diverse suppliers. And we think that it's a model that we can do in various communities within our service territory.
Derek Douglas: Are there things that you all changed or maybe you weren't thinking about doing and then you added them based on the engagement with the community and what you heard?
Gil Quiniones: The smart street lighting, the last-mile electric vehicle.
Derek Douglas: That was not part of you're-
Gil Quiniones: That was not part of what we were thinking. The STEM program, hiring individuals in the community from our suppliers and contractors to build the microgrid, a lot of those were, came from input from the community.
Derek Douglas: That's great, so that's a really good model to have that advisory working with you.
Gil Quiniones: Yeah.
Derek Douglas: Scott, talk a little bit about your model because yours is different from the two of theirs be because you're doing something in Austin, you're bringing someone from out of state. Can you talk a little bit about your model of engaging of what you're doing in the neighborhood and how it's distinctive?
Scott Santi: Well, what I would say, first of all, is it's, we're pretty early in terms of the state.
Derek Douglas: Yeah.
Scott Santi: So I think one of the things that we ultimately concluded as we were looking for how we were going to go about trying to do similar things to what these two gentlemen their companies are doing was that we had to really get in, that there's no way we were going to figure out from outside looking in exactly what this needed to look like, but ultimately, we had to put some of our own sort of economic skin in the game, which is really where we are.
We also, it had also be very much linked to needs that the company had. So we had some capacity that we were going to need to add in certain areas. We had some suppliers that we were looking to add some capacity. And so what we basically did was ask them to come to Austin and add that capacity in Austin instead of in, outside of Detroit, which is where they're serving us today.
So, you know, depending on who you read and what studies you read, you know, manufacturing jobs have either a five or seven to one multiplier in terms of the direct jobs
versus all the tail, you know, sort of supplier jobs in terms of, you know, as you create more incomes then just like Roger was talking about the nail salon the, you know, so we're trying to get the sort of critical mass going and I'm trying to bring enough sort of initial, economic commerce, just to have some level of critical mass.
But ultimately our, you know, looking at this as an 8 to 10-year haul before we have it sort of really up and running in an effective way. But I, you know, I would say similar to what Gil just said, we also think this is a model that, you know, we can hopefully, you know, sort of refine and then apply elsewhere over time.
Derek Douglas: Did the city play a role in partnering with you? Were they key? Were they helpful? Not helpful? This is off the record, right?
Scott Santi: Yeah. Well, not seeing the ruff of the audience. I, you know, I'd say this as a company, we are typically not a company that's looking for incentives. We're not looking to sort of do things on the backs of taxpayers. There's plenty of other situations where that's very, they're very needed and very effective. And so, you know, at this point the early investments we've made has really been on a building, on some infrastructure around that building, you know, using local contractors, helping this supplier, you know, locate assets and, and come into the community.
So I, you know, it's not that we asked the government for something and they didn't do what we needed it, it was just, I think at this stage, you know, we felt like we could at least get from point A to point B without a lot of-
Derek Douglas: Was that the same for the two of you? Or did was the city really instrumental?
Gil Quiniones: The city's been been a good partner, you know, in many cases, in our project, we need to get permits to build a various type of infrastructure. In the West Side, we actually, another way that we try and impact, one of our suppliers located in North Lawndale, the Will Group. And they create the grid equipment that we install in our electric grid and they assemble it there. They also do street lighting, but it's great because they employ about 120, 130 assemblers. It's not a manufacturing, but it's system integration and assembling, assembling of grid equipment and right there in K-Town in North Lawndale and we, you know, I think that has had an impact.
Derek Douglas: So this is a question, I'm going to start with you, Roger. I'd like everyone to speak to it. We have the three of you here, you're kind of telling the story of your companies, which are exemplars and one might think in the audience we could fill a room with CEOs telling similar stories, but you know, we can't, in some respects you all are kind of the exception more than the rule. And could you speak to why is that the case?
And two, if you were sitting with another CEO, what would you tell them to try to convince them or make them think differently about getting more involved? How do we get more companies to do something similar to what the three of you are doing?
Roger Hochschild: Yeah, so for me, you know, I think sometimes as CEO you just need to make the decision. And so it was easy, but we've gotten a lot of other interests from companies and I've given tours for CEOs, we're trying to actively bring people down 'cause you can tell them, there's nothing like seeing it, the energy you get, you've been there, right?
Derek Douglas: I've been there, yeah. It's amazing.
Roger Hochschild: I mean it just, it's really exciting. And then you tell also the business story and you know, every company has their DE&I efforts, you know, they're making loans, but this was something tangible. And I think Scott's point of, it's got to be part of the business. You don't want it something you're doing at the site, you get so much more of an impact if it's really core to your business. And so for us, we're going to continue telling the story, inviting people down, showing them, we've worked very closely with Deputy Mayor Samir Makar and offered to, you know, work with him if there are other people he wants to bring in.
So that's how, you know, our goal is to inspire as many other people as we can because, you know, I'd love to get to the point where there's too much competition for the workforce down there. I think we have a ways to go.
Derek Douglas: But why didn't you, in ideal world, 'cause you're kind of the one company there now, was the idea you were going to go, you were going to anchor, but is the the goal or the hope to have other companies follow and start to build the ecosystem, have you been recruiting companies to try to come down or it's more just showing your model and they can do what they want with it?
Roger Hochschild: Gosh, I wish I needed an ecosystem. That sounds so cool. I don't know. I'll, you know, we're happy. We got our neighbors in Chatham. We got our-
Scott Santi: They got that at the Shedd Aquarium.
Roger Hochschild: Yeah, gosh.
Derek Douglas: You're good.
Roger Hochschild: No, we got the nail salon, we got some good restaurants. Everything is fine.
Derek Douglas: Everything.
Roger Hochschild: So, yeah, we have everything we need. It's going to be a great center. We're going to have a thousand people. It was originally just going to be a call center. We're now have HR jobs there. We've stood up three technology teams and are very excited to create more and more technology jobs and promote folks from our call center or working with Chicago State. So I think it's really more, this is a problem that requires the business community to work together collectively. I think it's one of the great things about Chicago is, how tight the business community is and how well we work together. So we just want to encourage as many companies as we can.
Derek Douglas: Scott, on that topic, could you speak a little bit to, you know, Scott, in addition to being CEO of ITW, he was actually the chair of the Civic Committee, which is a large organization of business of CEOs. Could you speak a little bit to the business diversity effort that was kind of your brainchild that's been going-
Scott Santi: I thought you were going to talk about the fact that I recruited you out of the park.
Derek Douglas: Well, Caroline
Scott Santi: 'Cause that's what I've thought I've done-
Derek Douglas: I'm not allowed to go there.
Scott Santi: The workforce Chicago people.
Derek Douglas: I see some of my team as well, some of my OC team there. So that's a sore spot. We'll go to the positive of what, what's been happening at the Civic Committee and what do you see as the energy around getting more companies to take this on?
Scott Santi: Yeah, I, well, the Civic Committee is an organization of the CEOs of the top what?
Derek Douglas: Yeah.
Scott Santi: 90 employers in the city, give or take. And the simple idea is that, you know, all of our companies have supplier diversity programs of, in one form or another, a lot of people doing some good work, a lot, most of us pretty probably a little bit frustrated in terms of the pace and progress. And so the idea is, you know, that we're actively working is if we can coordinate, sort of spend amongst our membership in ways that allow us to be more targeted and focused about where we're going to develop supplier diversity that we can do more collectively than our companies can do individually.
And I think that's, you know, I think we've proven the point in terms of data. We're now in the execution phase. The, you know, the thing I would say that I think also applies to the broader question that you're asking about why more people aren't doing this is that, is I do believe this is, you know, this is, we got to be driving permanent change, not sort of feel good-
Derek Douglas: Yes.
Scott Santi: - short term change. And so I think these sorts of models need some seasoning, right? We got to be patient enough.
Derek Douglas: Yeah.
Scott Santi: So that it's not, you know, it's just not, it's not a new neat thing. It's, you know, four or five years in, given, you know, that ecosystem around these investments starts to develop. And I think it becomes a morally more fully fleshed, you know, sort of change in how we think about doing business. And so, what, you know, I just think it's, I think the, you know, the lean in continues to elevate, but it's also not going to be a quick fix. It's not going to be, you know, it's, we got to be committed to this.
Derek Douglas: For the long-
Scott Santi: Forever, yeah.
Derek Douglas: But when I was at the University of Chicago, I often talked, use the term mutual benefit. And the idea was, when we were doing our engagement or activities, I always said we need to be able to tell the narrative as to how both the community and the university as an institution, gained from whatever the initiative or the effort was. If it was only one direction, then it's, you know, it's a kindness of your heart thing. It's not sustainable-
Scott Santi: Either way. Right? Yup.
Derek Douglas: It's got to be the mutual. And that's kind of what you're getting at. Now we do have some students here and so I wanted to just shift a little bit and Gil come to you because in addition to all the great work you guys are doing and with your companies and the models you're setting, you're, I think, emblematic of the kind of leadership that we want to see in Chicago.
Is there a story, Gil, from your past, a moment that really helped prepare you to lead in the way you're doing now that you could share with some of the students who are about to get on
the same business journeys that you guys have been on?
Gil Quiniones: So the first 16 years of my career I spent at the cousin of ComEd, it's Con Ed, Consolidated Edison. Con Ed, of New York, in New York City.
Scott Santi: That's a brilliant brand.
Derek Douglas: Yeah. (laughs)
Gil Quiniones: But so I've always been in the utility. But after 9/11, I had the opportunity to work for Mayor Michael Bloomberg as his energy and telecom advisor to help rebuild New York City after 9/11. And that was really a life-changing experience for me. I lived two miles north of Ground Zero, so being part of that. And when you work in local government, in government, local state, you get to do a lot of things that really impact people's lives. You don't get paid anything, right?
But, it was so energizing. I got involved in redesigning the solid waste management plan of New York City to redistribute the waste transfer station so that they're not concentrated in environmental justice communities and communities of color. That was a great project.
We tried to attract the Olympics, 2012 Olympic. We lost to London, but it was a great exercise because it became the basis for the rezoning of the various parts of New York City, the waterfront. Now Williamsburg and Brooklyn is one of the hottest place. And it was, but it was all part of that Olympic planning process that created all the rezoning.
And so after that, I worked for the New York Power Authority before I came here. That's a state-owned, the largest state-owned electric utility in the U.S. So I also got the experience from the state level on how do you impact communities and neighborhoods. So if I have one advice, I know you're in business school, try and have a stint in either local or state government. And, you know, before going back to the private sector, it was a life changing event for me.
Derek Douglas: I would concur, I used to work in the White House before.
Gil Quiniones: Yeah.
Derek Douglas: And it is. To Roger and Scott, if you could speak and then we're going to have to break for students to leave and we'll open up to questions. What one piece of advice, you have students here, but you also have leaders of some, many of the great civic organization, I'm looking at Brian Fabes who got the Corporate Coalition going in Haven.
What would one piece of advice be to, you would give to leaders who value economic inclusion and want to kind of follow the lead that you all have been on that journey of advancing economic conclusion in Chicago?
Scott Santi: Roger.
Derek Douglas: Roger, why don't you start.
Roger Hochschild: Um, you know, I think, it's something, Scott said it first, but I'll reinforce it. Make it central to your business, right? Don't, you know, there are a lot of companies making loans and, or making donations and in reality, I think about how great would our economy be, right? Any business person would say, how great would our economy be if everyone participated fully, right?
It would just be amazing. You think about what the region would look like, the growth we would have. And then you say, okay, what can we do to help that? And approach it as a business problem that you're going to pursue as aggressively as anything else that you focus on. And that you're not going to take no for an answer. You're going to be creative, you're going to be innovative. To Brian's point, you're going to think differently, it's business unusual. And the benefits are amazing and ones you never imagined.
I'll give you guys one silly story. Every big company has a corporate catalog, which is their branded merch, right? So a Discover T-shirt or a mug or a million different things. And so I got a call from the woman who runs our Chatham Center saying, you know, "The corporate catalog is racist." I was like, "Well, wait a second."
And you look at it and it looks like everything you would see at a Lake Forest Golf Course Pro Shop, right? It's everyone's favorite brand, it's got your Lands' End, you got little Johnnie-O. And she said, "Where's the street wear?" I was like, "Oh, that's a good point." So we're now working with three Chatham designers on a totally different look for the Discover catalog. And you know, going down to Chatham, white executives at Discover can have the experience their Black colleagues have every day of being the only one like them in the room, being a little worried about, "Am I dressed the right way? Did I shake hands the right way? What's going on?"And so, you know, you can transform your company, you just need to make the decision and then just go for it.
Derek Douglas: Scott, do you have anything to add?
Scott Santi: I think those are terrific points. You know, maybe the only thing I would add is that, is I think part of the conviction that drives us is the fact that, that ultimately economics access to economic opportunity is essentially the vehicle that most of what we believe to be society's problems get solved, right? It's education or it's access to, you know, equitable access. And so I think from the standpoint of this idea of long-term commitment to permanent change, it is so fundamentally critical to, you know, we talk about the crime problem in the city.
Derek Douglas: Yeah.
Scott Santi: A whole myriad of issues. I think that, that all, you know, in the end are in some way impacted by lack of access to, you know, sort of the full economic, you know.
Derek Douglas: Absolutely.
Scott Santi: Opportunities that that exist in this incredible country.
Derek Douglas: Absolutely, and in Chicago that's, you know, that is so apropos what you said. So we're going to start opening it up now to questions from the audience. I know that some students are going to have to peel away. We really appreciate you being here. And so if people have questions, raise your hand. There's a microphone that they have and we can direct the question to the panel. Who wants to open it up? There's one here and then we come to you, Daniel.
Scott Santi: If we don't get questions, we start asking them.
Derek Douglas: I think you'll get some. This is a talkative group. Go ahead.
[Participant] Hi everyone. I'm wondering, different communities have different needs and I'm wondering, when you opened up businesses in disadvantaged communities, do you find that you had to change certain policies or procedures or benefits offered to reflect the needs of those communities? So I'm thinking about things like shift scheduling or transit or childcare or employee training and education. Anything like that need to be changed to reflect the needs of the communities?
Roger Hochschild: A lot had to change, but the benefits are the same, right? The employees there get the same healthcare I do. A lot of it had to do with the recruiting strategy and how traditionally you've thought about talent. And what the recruiters would say is every employee, every prospect who applies, we don't look to disqualify them. We look to qualify them. We look for, do they have skills that are close to what we're looking for? And we've had great partnerships with, with workforce development groups.
You know, I think the key, the woman who runs the center, Juatise, grew up in Roseland and a lot of our managers we hired, you know, you need people from the community and you can't just come in with what has worked elsewhere because what has worked elsewhere has been developed and optimized in other communities. So, you know, how you recruit for talent,
the channels you use, but the best advice we got is, you know, be asked into the community, be humble and learn.
And so I think by leveraging local leaders, we've adapted those things we needed to. But you know, a lot of other things though, we haven't had to change. And so schedules are the same.
You know, we picked the location near transportation because it was a Target. There's a lot of parking, so that works out really well. You know, we start offering lunch for free. Hadn't done that in other centers. We do have more people working in the center versus from home because not all of the employees have either the broadband, they have reliable power, everyone has that, that, you know, you get-
Derek Douglas: Oh, I get that.
Roger Hochschild: That everyone has-
Scott Santi: Buy your own bread, baby.
Roger Hochschild: Maybe not have broadband or a location. So, but again, I think it's that test, learn, and there's some ideas that we'll bring back to other centers that we've perfected in Chatham.
[Participant] Oh, I got it. Good evening, Daniel Cervantes with Skills. I wanted to build upon a question that Derek asked earlier as you're out in different platforms, circles, talking to corporate leaders, Roger, you talked about hosting leaders at the Chatham office. So open questions to all, but what has resonated with them when you share your stories? And where it has not resonated, what's the sort of obstacles, things that they have to stomach that in order to make it come to fruition has been somewhat of, we'll call it a blocker, an opportunity?
Gil Quiniones: In our case, with, just like Roger, we've been bringing other utilities and other regulators to Bronzeville because we're a regulated company, you know, utilities are regulated companies and we are able to demonstrate, I think Derek pointed this out, that it's not only good for the community, it's actually good for all of our customers.
Derek Douglas: Yeah.
Gil Quiniones: And the kind of regulatory construct and rules that can be put in place to make that happen. So we do that and now we can, as I've said, we're replicating this in Rockford and hopefully, more places. And going back on on workforce development, in our case in Chicago, we really, for our utility, it's ideal if we recruit our line workers from work or close to where they live. And what's happening in our company right now is that people will go to our line workers' school, but after three to five years, they get enough credentials, they move out to the suburbs to, and so Chicago's becoming a funnel.
So one thing we're doing very differently is, we are providing extra training. There are, you know, climbing schools or extra tutorial or test preparation, we have some aptitude tests
and we recruit from the schools in the community. I'll give you an example, a line worker for ComEd, a starting salary, it's $80,000 a year.
Derek Douglas: Wow.
Gil Quiniones: You only need a high school education. You have to pass the aptitude test and you have to be physically fit to be able to do the job. But it's a great pathway to, you know, to economic self-sufficiency for many families. And so we're really working now with, we have a workforce development center with the Kennedy-King Community College, Dawson Tech. We have our own training center on the South Side also, but we're working a lot with CPS schools and community colleges to bring in the utility workforce of the future. 'Cause we're going to need people who know how to install and maintain solar panels, how to install and maintain charging stations for electric vehicles. We're going to need people who know how to install heat pumps in homes and buildings.
So we are very much along with other partners, private sector partners, creating that funnel and it's good business for us that our line workers and utility workers work and live close to where they work.
Derek Douglas: Other question, we have a couple up here. Here, let's come on this side, right here. Right there. Okay, go ahead.
[Participant] All right, Josh-
Derek Douglas: You got the mic, you asked the question. That's how it works, right?
[Participant] It's all right. I'm Josh with GoArchitect. And one of the questions I had was, with like, for instance, Gil, you mentioned some of the innovations that you've put in this test project with electric vehicles and the microgrid, which we've seen in some other parts of the country. And then with a call center, there's obviously a lot of operational excellence that needs to go into that. So with these projects, is the innovation that they're in, location that they're in, or are there kind of other innovations that need to come together to make that happen?
I hope that question makes sense, but I guess how much of it is pushing the boundary on your actual business or technology versus pushing the boundary just because it's in XYZ location?
Derek Douglas: Did you want to start?
Scott Santi: I mean, in our case, it's definitely the latter, not the former, you know, it's being able to replicate things we're doing in other communities quite successfully in these underinvestment communities. So it is, and that requires a fair amount of innovation. I, you know, I'm sure these gentlemen could speak to that, but there's a lot of things that need to be learned to be able to effectively operate. Where you want to get, I, you know, I think this is true for all of us is that that you've got a facility that sits on equal footing with any other operation you have in the country.
We are just tapping a different employee base, we're tapping a different set of resources where a lot of what we rely on often in other communities is not really available. So I think that's, you know, the innovation is how to operate world class in areas where you don't have the infrastructure, you don't have the same workforce to start out with. So you have to, you know, you have to innovate, in my opinion, in terms of doing different things there. But ultimately, they've got to stand on the same, you know, this, you know, we have customers that we have to serve and as Roger I think said really well, this is, you know, whether they call Chatham or they call, I forget where else, it has to be the same experience, you know.
Derek Douglas: Great question. This gentleman here. Way right there, yeah. Then we'll come over here next.
[Participant] Hi, my name is Riley Melton. I'm a first year Master of Public Policy student at the Harris School of Public Policy. And this question can be opened up to all three of you. How do you envision future community development initiatives in, whether that be Bronzeville, Austin, or in Chatham, benefiting from your respective company's presence in the community?
Derek Douglas: It's like the catalytic effect.
Roger Hochschild: Yeah, I mean, at least for us, it's sort of the broader economic activity. And again, I'm really passionate about jobs in the community and so we're strengthening the suppliers, you know, one of our big success stories was around the build out and using local minority-owned businesses and we thought we were doing a good job, we're ahead of all the metrics the city wanted. And then we got yelled at by one of the aldermen who said, you know, "This is not a minority community. This is a Black community. How many Chatham Black companies are you working with?"
And so we helped some electrical suppliers get the certifications needed to do the low voltage, you know, they'll be able to translate that into other, now I can use the ecosystem work. This is exciting, right? We're building an ecosystem. And so I think others will benefit from that. And I was at one of the elementary schools talking to the principal and she said, you know, she can already see a difference in the kids whose parents now work at the center. And to Scott's point, I do think jobs and participating in the economy is the key to solving virtually every whoa that we have in these communities.
Scott Santi: And it might, just a small add-on to that is, I think it's all a momentum play.
Roger Hochschild: Yeah.
Scott Santi: It's all, you know, we're trying to build up, you know, almost from zero, some level of, you know, sort of re-engagement and economic activity that, that has those models mature then I, you know, I think that momentum continues to grow.
Gil Quiniones: Yeah. And in our case for example, we are putting fiber optic communication system on top of our grid anyway to make it smarter. But what we're doing now is we're starting in areas where there is lack of broadband because we need- we don't need all of the capacity of the fiber so we can lease the excess capacity to an ISP provider or telecom company to provide that last mile broadband. So that's one way that we impact with our investments.
Derek Douglas: Great. Let's come on this side. Yes.
[Participant] Thank you for all the great example you gave today. I do have a question. We see more and more, so companies looking at changing their HR policy, for example, to enabling volunteering. Is that a lever that you consider to foster inclusivity and more social impact in your companies?
Gil Quiniones: What policy, HR?
[Participant] Like volunteering, like volunteer time off, for example.
Roger Hochschild: So we put a change in, so we have, even for our, we had it for our salaried workers, but now for hourly workers, they get 8 to 16 hours of paid time for volunteerism. We'll match their donations. And I know I keep coming back to the same theme, you know, having jobs in your community let you participate as volunteers. So your employees, you know, I talked to one, you know, he can now drop his daughter off in the mornings as opposed to having a two-hour commute, right? You can be active in kids sports, in schools, in your church, but volunteerism is a key component in, you know, for us, everywhere we do business, you want to be a good part of the community and encourage your employees to give back.
Gil Quiniones: Yeah, same thing in our company, we support and pay people to do volunteer work, plus if they want to donate money, we have company matching for those donations.
Derek Douglas: There in the back there, in the black dress, yeah. Yeah, I see you.
[Participant] Hi. That’s me.
Derek Douglas: Stand up though so we can see you, yeah, it's hard to-
[Participant] Hi, my name is Monique Mervin. I am a current Booth student and I'm so thrilled for this conversation. So I was born in the Chatham community and I was raised in Bronzeville.
Derek Douglas: Oh, all right.
[Participant] So two special places that I've been venturing about.
Derek Douglas: Are you moving to Austin?
Roger Hochschild: Would it work?
[Participant] I may hit that next. So as a current student and someone who aspires to the C-suite one day, I know we talked a lot about the reinvestment in the communities that I come from, but could you talk a little bit more about the leadership track? So what does, I guess number one, my question is what percentage of your leadership and board represents people who look like me or from my communities? And where would you aspire that number that you would like that to be? And also, what kind of pipeline do you imagine the future to look like? So what could someone like me aspire to, to be in your shoes one day?
Derek Douglas: Good question.
Roger Hochschild: Yeah, so what I would say, I try and get down to Chatham to meet with the new employees and virtually, every class I talk to, I get that same question from people who are starting on the phones, how do I get to be CEO? And that makes me really excited because we have had people start on the phones and move up to the management committee level to, you know, having thousands of people working for them. You know, one of the things we do is we pay for college tuition from day one. And what we found is tuition reimbursement isn't good enough 'cause that only works if you have the money to pay for tuition and then get it reimbursed.
So we pay dollar for dollar upfront. We have set targets for people of color to be, it varies by area, but 25 to 30% across every level. And that's what we focus at the board level too and part of our view on diversity. But there's nothing like having a better, you know, pipeline and more people coming in at the bottom of the pyramid. And while they may start in call center jobs, as I said, we're already expanding to technology, to HR, and over time, you know, hopefully my next, you know, one of our future CEOs is already
working for us in Chatham.
Anyone else want to speak-
Scott Santi: Yeah. I'll just skip all the red tape and say send me your resume.
Gil Quiniones: Exactly.
Derek Douglas: That's right. Good move. Any other students want to follow that? All right, I think we have time for maybe a couple more questions. You want to get in here and then there's a gentleman here, then here. He had his hand up raised for a while.
[Participant] Gil already stole my thunder with the improvements in that, the fiber we need that, every single household in Illinois must have fiber internet for us to be competitive. So, which leads into my next question since you answered my first one. We've had a number of companies leave Illinois, Caterpillar down the street from you, Roger, Boeing, Citadel. Allstate sold it's headquarters. We don't know what's going to happen there. Baxter has its headquarters for sale.
So my question for you gentlemen is the following: For you as CEOs, what can Illinois do to make it easier for you to do business so that we start attracting new companies and you know, this narrative changes? I think that's the big question 'cause that lifts everybody's boat.
Scott Santi: Well, I'm Illinois Tool Works so we're not going anywhere. I don't really, I can't afford the letterhead change so probably-
Gil Quiniones: ComEd too. I can't, you know.
Scott Santi: I'll defer to these gentlemen on-
Gil Quiniones: I can't pick up and go, but let me tell you what we're doing as ComEd to help attract and retain businesses. Number one, you know, operational excellence, most of you probably know, we are the most reliable utility in the United States last year, right? We were also voted to be the most resilient utility.
Most of the electricity we delivers carbon-free already because of all the nuclear plants in Northern Illinois. I would say the only place who can claim something like that, probably it's the State of Washington, because they have a lot of hydro power, but we're reliable, we're clean, and our average residential rates, we're actually one of the lowest in the country. So we're also affordable. We are becoming the data center.
For example, data center capital in the U.S., it used to be Virginia, the utility, their dominion, they couldn't accept more data centers load anymore. And so they're all coming to Illinois and those are, you know, big time investments, Meta, Microsoft and others. And they come because we're reliable, we have clean energy and we're affordable. So that's one way for us to at least from ComEd to help in the attraction and the retention of businesses here.
Roger Hochschild: Yeah - eh -
Derek Douglas: Go ahead, Roger.
Roger Hochschild: It might be an easy answer, but I would say for the city and state it's more, you know, you do your job and we'll do ours. We don't want any business help, you know, sort out the budget, work on crime, but this is an amazingly attractive city. The other thing that, especially with our hosts here, the academic community, if you take Chicago and the institutions here, but then broaden it to Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, all those kids want to come to Chicago. And so the talent, we started-
Scott Santi: The University of, you mean?
Roger Hochschild: Yes, exactly. Well, anyone living in those states would rather be in Chicago. You know, we started an analytics program, you have to come to the office, you had to move to Chicago.We had 1,100 applicants for 70 spots. So -
Derek Douglas: Wow.
Roger Hochschild: So I think, you know, we can do our part. I, you know, it's a shame some of those companies left, but I think we need to do a better job telling the story of what a great place this is to do business. And, you know, other companies will come.
Derek Douglas: Great point. I promise you to get in here and then you'll be the last question. This gentleman here in the tie, if you wear a suit to this, you got to get, you will going to get-
Gil Quiniones: With a tie.
Scott Santi: Wait till next meeting, you'll see-
Derek Douglas: I think you’re the only guy with the suit and tie, so we had to give you the shot.
[Participant] Thank you. I thought, I'm very pleased that you're in Chatham. I grew up there, so that's awesome to see, but I sell commercial appliances. So my question is for Scott, do you see your dealer network for premium brands like Hobart as a leverage point to create economic development?
Scott Santi: Yeah, there's no question about it. We are, this is a bit of an inside baseball question. So we own, about a seventh of our company is commercial food equipment, so cooking, dishwashing, refrigeration inside universities, hospitals, hotels. So, you know, we're working on, actually, I have been working on a similar program to what Gil referenced earlier. So we have 1,500 service techs in the country that are servicing our equipment for restaurants and hospitals and hotels.
And so we are doing some specific things in terms of non-college degree, recruiting, training, development. And we haven't necessarily connected those through the dealer network yet, but ultimately, you know, once we get our own sort of methodology, these are again, high wage, high benefit, you know, well above sustaining wage kinds of jobs, take a little bit of technical skill, but as we, you know, and we are working on sort of centers where we can recruit people for these roles and partnering with local community colleges in terms of supplementing some of the training they need to be able to be effective later on and all that. The ultimate thought is that we then multiply that by a factor of 10 if we bring up our dealer network in.
So once we have a good model there and that's just certainly one example. But yeah, we have local dealers representing our products all over the country. And so from the standpoint of their choices they make in terms of who they do business with, there's certainly ample room for, you know, coordinated effort around how can we broaden our, the participation of diverse minority-owned businesses in our ecosystem again, right.
Derek Douglas: Well, this is the last question here.
Scott Santi: So who's the company by the way, you?
(participant faintly speaking)
Scott Santi: Okay. Wonderful.
Derek Douglas: You, you'll close this out.
[Participant] All right, this is-
Scott Santi: It's pressure.
[Participant] Yeah. Chris Kim here, student here at Booth. I have a few questions. The first one is, I'd love to hear more data when it comes to the positive impacts that you guys have made in these areas that you've invested in. Curious about that. And then second question is, what incentive did you guys receive from the government to invest in the projects? The last one is, how can other companies be swayed into investing in underserved communities like the South and the West Side? Thank you.
Derek Douglas: We could have just come to you for the whole Q and A. All right, go ahead.
Roger Hochschild: I can run through the three. We're working on measuring the broad economic benefit and actually are working with some academics around that. We think about jobs. So the primary metric is how many people are we employing? That's what I'm focused on. But in terms of, you know, I don't know if it's six or seven, but there is a broader halo effect and we're looking to capture as much of that. You know, I would say we know we're benefiting the community because 85% of the people we hire work within five miles. So we're very focused on local.
In terms of incentives, we got nothing from the state and something very small from the city.
And that was partially by design. You know, to Scott's point, we, you know, there are plenty of things we think the city and state should be spending money on, helping us is not one.
But also those programs are designed for competitive situations. We've had to say, well, we're looking at Indiana or Illinois and that wasn't it. We were only looking here. And so we probably wouldn't have qualified for anything in terms of that. Now, I can't remember. What was the third one?
[Participant] If we get other people-
Roger Hochschild: How we get other people? I, you know, again, when I said earlier, having them come see it, but also telling the business story.
Gil Quiniones: Yeah.
Roger Hochschild: Right? It can't be just a, "Hey, we're doing the right thing. Be inspired by us." Telling the business story as well as them seeing what it's doing for the community, I think that's where the real magic comes from.
Derek Douglas: Anyone else want to jump in on any of those three?
Gil Quiniones: Yeah, in our case, we believe, we estimate that this clean energy transition between now and 2030 can have the potential of producing 40,000 net new jobs in our service territory. And, you know, but a lot has to happen, right? Our own initiatives have been really, you know, just like what described here, we're trying to measure the broader economic impact. No government subsidies. We are regulated. So in some cases we will be able to recover the cost of the initiatives.
What will be a game changer for the energy industry, especially utilities, is the IIJA, the infrastructure legislation at the federal level and the Inflation Reduction Act. There's a lot of money that are going to be given to states and to companies like ours to invest in clean energy and infrastructure. So that is to come. And we have applied for some of those available funds. For example, on the broadband, middle mile broadband, we call it, that there's some matching funds so we can scale faster in doing those projects.
Derek Douglas: Great.
Scott Santi: And maybe I'll just add on on the issue of why aren't more people doing it. I think, you know,this is a sort of a hard thing for me to say in that I come from a company where, you know, we believe in pushing decision making close to the customer. We're very decentralized. At least 50,000 people at my company that would say I'm just a figurehead and don't really add much value, fake again.
But I think in this context, you know, I think what a lot of companies don't appreciate yet is, there's a lot of friction, right? There's a lot of reasons not to do this just because and Roger hit on it, I think it, in early on. And so I do think part of the story we have to tell is, is how personally involved we got in terms of pushing through that friction. Because these are good business decisions, but they are plenty of options with less, you know, that are frictionless relative to this, right?
And so I think, you know, like most big companies, you have departments that are responsible for sourcing or site selection is, I think the example you used, Roger, and I think, you know, we only start to, you know, sort of build momentum here when somebody with the actual sort of authority to cut through a lot of those traditional thought processes and say, "Look, we're just going to do this," and we're going to learn.
And I, you know, I think that's probably part of what ultimately builds some momentum is, is we have to educate our peers on, "Look, you really want to do this. You can't outsource it to the whatever department. That's going to be something that you're going to have to leave from the front end."
Gil Quiniones: I like what Roger said earlier. You have to inspire, right? Inspire a shared vision. And what your employees, your board, your stakeholders and peers, I think that word inspire a shared vision is important.
Derek Douglas: Well, that's a great way to end it. And I would say for all of us, this was an inspiring panel. You guys did a great job.
Caroline Grossman: Thank you. Many thanks, Derek. Thank you all so much for joining us tonight. This was a terrific discussion. And as I think about one of the themes, you talked about the ecosystem quite a lot, and I would answer, also answer your question about what can we do to propel more activity like this, and I think one thing we can do is just own the part that just by being here, doing the work you do, being the student you are, that you are part of the ecosystem. So that's, it's going to help propel us forward. So thank you.
On that note, I invite you to stay connected to the Rustandy Center. If you're not already getting email from us, then sign up for our emails on our website.Please join us at our next
Innovating for Social Equity event in April. And please stick around. We've got some refreshments, so be part of the ecosystem that you are. And I look forward to connecting.
Thank you so much.
Derek Douglas: Thank you.
What can Chicago-area companies do to address the racial and economic disparities that continue to plague the city? Quite a bit -- if you ask Roger Hochschild, CEO of Discover, Gil Quiniones, CEO of ComEd and E. Scott Santi, CEO of Illinois Tool Works who shared their own projects and insights at the “Innovating for Social Equity: Anchoring Economic Growth in Chicago” event hosted by the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation.
The event is part of the center’s ongoing Innovating for Social Equity series, which examines cross-sector efforts to tackle societal and economic disparities. It was moderated by Derek Douglas, President of the Civic Committee and Commercial Club of Chicago, who is currently a Rustandy Center executive in residence. The panelists highlighted initiatives that not only benefit the communities but also make business sense. “I often used the term mutual benefit,” says Douglas. “We need to be able to tell the narrative of how both the community and others gain from this -- if it’s only one directional it’s not sustainable.”
Here are the main takeaways from the in-person discussion:
Creating a model for change
Call centers are the lifeblood of Discover, allowing customers to call with urgent questions to solve account problems. The company prides itself on having only US-based call centers and views superior customer service as a differentiating factor. Discover made a strategic decision to invest in locating a new call center in a former retail hub for Chatham, a predominantly Black neighborhood on the south side of the city. “I had been thinking of how corporate site selection perpetuates systemic bias. Only large companies bring jobs at scale,” said Hochschild. “We were convinced that it would work out.”
It did. Opened in 2021, the financial services firm’s Customer Care Center in Chatham now has more than 500 Discover employees, the majority of whom live within five miles of their job. The call center is performing at the same level as more established call centers with 40% less attrition. The low attrition rate means far less need for training and lower costs. The new call center is also stimulating greater economic activity in the local community. Discover works with more than 20 local area restaurants to offer the employees free lunch daily, while other small businesses benefit from having a big employer in the area.
The call center has been so successful that Discover is incorporating practices from the Chatham location to other existing call centers and plans to continue investing in other neighborhoods like it. “Sometimes these decisions look riskier than they are,” Hochschild said. “We have benefited as a company so much more than Chatham. It’s an honor for us to be in that community.”
Powering the next generation of neighborhoods
For ComEd’s Quiniones, developing a project in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood serves as a model of what other areas with little access to renewable resources can look like in the future. ComEd is developing a community microgrid in Bronzeville – one of the first of its kind in the country - allowing the neighborhood to retain power in case of a power outage through distributed energy sources (DERs). “We believe the benefits of clean energy should be available to all - there should be no ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,” he said. Once complete, the microgrid will power more than 1,000 homes, businesses and public institutions.
The Bronzeville project offers a template of how the utility company is planning to bring its existing infrastructure into the future including incorporating renewable energy sources, smart street lighting, and last-mile electric vehicle transportation for seniors. Many of these initiatives were a result of direct input from the local community.
To get this community input, ComEd convened a neighborhood advisory group that also led to the incorporation of local hiring initiatives, youth STEM programming, and a mural to conceal equipment for the microgrid commemorating Bronzeville’s iconic African American past.
Next up, the utility is considering a similar project north of Chicago in Rockford, Ill. “We think it’s a model we can do in various communities within our service territory,” Quiniones said.
Making long-term investments
At Illinois Tool Works (ITW), the decision to invest in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods began with a desire to have direct impact through multi-year commitments. This year, the company formalized its investment in Chicago’s Austin and Belmont Cragin neighborhoods as part of its new Commit to a Neighborhood Initiative. Over the next decade, the goal is to bring manufacturing jobs to an area that has experienced decades of disinvestment. “Part of what drives us is that access to economic opportunities is essentially the vehicle to how society’s challenges get solved. It is critical to addressing a myriad of issues facing the city to give full access to economic opportunities” Santi told the audience.
The company already has ties to the area, including sponsoring the ITW David Speer Academy in Belmont Cragin, a high school that opened in 2014. ITW employees are involved in STEM education programming for more than 1,000 students.
For Santi, and the rest of the speakers, it’s critical to keep expanding these initiatives for maximum impact. “We need to be driving permanent change, not feel-good short-term change -- it’s not going to be a quick fix,” he said.
The Innovating for Social Equity series aims to examine cross-sector efforts to tackle the seemingly intractable barriers to a society and economy that work for all.
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