Category: Uncategorized

It was a Banner Year for Advanced Manufacturing

This year, Lake County celebrated a flurry of new businesses and expansions, and nowhere was this more pronounced than in advanced manufacturing. With Lake County’s incredible streak of industry growth over the past several years, 2021 was the punctuation mark on recent record-levels of new jobs and investment.

Since 2019, manufacturers have added 520 new jobs and directly invested $180 million in land, buildings and equipment. Manufacturing is a true powerhouse when it comes to job and revenue generation as it now contributes to more than 27% of Lake County’s gross domestic product and employs 1 in 7 workers. Lake County’s talent—which is diverse, highly-skilled and TWICE the national average for a similar sized region—is certainly contributing to this success. Employers are taking note.

Lake County Partners spent the year working directly with businesses, partners like the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the College of Lake County, and public sector leaders to secure deals and land wins. From pizza to manufactured goods and the packages that they go into, you can find it all in Lake County. Here are a few of the advanced manufacturing highlights of 2021:

  • AZ Polymers broke ground for a new facility in Gurnee, while Fischer Paper Products in Antioch, Belle Aire Creations in Round Lake Park and Mighty Hook in Waukegan cut ribbons to celebrate expansions.

  • Fifty-year old, beloved pizza chain Lou Malnati’s consolidated its corporate offices, manufacturing and fulfillment in Buffalo Grove to respond to rapid growth.

  • Amazon finished work on its third Waukegan facility, increasing the number of people working for the company in the city to 1,000 in more than 1.1 million square feet of space.

  • Medline, one of the world’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of medical supplies, continued to expand its Lake County footprint with three facilities, two offices and a 1.4 million sq. ft. Grayslake distribution center that is the fifth largest in the world.

  • Power transmission component manufacturer HM Manufacturing looked to add a new shift in Wauconda, with the company anticipating up to 26% growth by the end of the year.

  • Medical device manufacturer Medical Murray completed state-of-the-art expansions at its facilities in North Barrington and Lake Zurich.

  • The College of Lake County gathered community leaders together for a beam signing to commemorate advancement on its new Advanced Technology Center that will offer in-demand manufacturing training to fortify Lake County’s strong talent pipeline.

We want to add your company to the list of next year’s success stories. Contact us here to request our support and services, all of which are free thanks to the support of our investors.

2021 Was A Big Year for Celebration in Lake County

Lake County celebrated an unprecedented string of business wins in 2021. The county’s strong mix of life science, advanced manufacturing and professional services powered the economy forward, leading to nearly 61,000 employees returning to work since the start of the pandemic.

Local leadership, coupled with Lake County’s legacy of public-private partnership, has created a framework to support business—leading to $317 million in direct capital investment over the last three years. In that same time frame, nearly 3,000 new jobs have been created, and over 4,000 have been retained. Lake County Partners is honored to have played a role in the success, and is fortunate to have received the Partnership Award from the International Economic Development Council for developing the tools to drive business forward.

Congratulations to the following businesses for investing in Lake County and giving us plenty of opportunities to gather and celebrate our collective success this year:

Horizon Therapeutics Headquarters

After buying the 70-acre former Takeda property in Deerfield, the company unveiled its exciting plans for the space and began welcome employees back to a cutting-edge office.

Fischer Paper Products Grand Opening

This long-standing Lake County manufacturer celebrated the completion of its new headquarters in Antioch, paving the way for new jobs and anticipated growth that will increase its workforce 10% each year for the next 5 – 10 years.

AZ Polymers Groundbreaking

This exciting project came to fruition thanks to collaboration among the Village of Gurnee, Illinois DCEO and Lake County Partners, setting the stage for a new manufacturing facility and creating 25 new jobs.

Mighty Hook Ribbon Cutting

The advanced manufacturer purchased a new facility and moved its headquarters to Waukegan, where the company now has capacity for continued growth and can establish a robust training program to upskill employees.

Hawthorn Mall 2.0 Renovation

A $250 million dollar renovation on this property to transform it into a regional lifestyle center has made the project one of the biggest and most anticipated projects in Vernon Hills history.

Customs Building Ribbon Cutting

A $2 million investment made a new customs facility possible at Waukegan National Airport, ensuring that the airport complies with strict Department of Homeland Security requirements and allowing general aviation flyers to quickly and efficiently clear customs.

Belle Aire Creations Ribbon Cutting

The unique fragrance manufacturer celebrated its latest Lake County expansion with a new, sustainable Round Lake Park facility that quadrupled its local manufacturing footprint. Belle Aire Creations will further grow at a new Libertyville location set to open in 2022.

College of Lake County Investments

The College of Lake County continues to make important investments to meet the workforce demands of today and tomorrow. A new $2 million donation has given a big boost to the new Advanced Technology Center in Gurnee to offer in-demand manufacturing training. In Waukegan, construction continued on the new Lakeshore Campus Student Center—a cutting-edge facility that will further strengthen Lake County’s talent pipeline.

We want to see your company on next year’s list of success stories. Connect with us here to request support and see how we can help your business grow in Lake County, Illinois.

Economic Development Benefits from Strong Regional Transportation

The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) is currently developing the 2023 Regional Transit Strategic Plan for Northeastern Illinois to address challenges and leverage opportunities for transportation. RTA is making a concerted effort to engage and collaborate with stakeholders, and Lake County Partners’ president and CEO Kevin Considine was honored to recently share the organization’s thoughts in the following Q & A blog post. Learn more about the plan and share your input here.

Why are you passionate about transit?

As a suburban economic development organization, people generally think that our work is about recruiting companies to invest in Lake County—and that’s definitely part of our mandate. A growing part of our work, however, is about making sure that other systems like education, housing, and transportation and transit networks are built in ways that make it possible for people to work and lead balanced lives. If we think holistically and build those networks of systems to support workers and the businesses that employ them, companies and talented individuals will choose Lake County. Transit is an important part of that multi-dimensional approach to economic development.

What do you see as the greatest challenge and opportunities for the Chicago region’s transit system over the next ten years? What is the biggest barrier to realizing these opportunities?

One of the biggest opportunities for transit systems is the rather unprecedented break in the way that things have always been done. Before the pandemic, for example, some transit schedules in Lake County had been static for decades. In many cases, this meant that service schedules favored the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. worker and assumed that the primary role of the transit system was to get workers from homes in the suburbs to office buildings downtown, but that’s not the case anymore. One in seven jobs in Lake County is in the manufacturing industry, which is a 24/7 workplace and happens in industrial parks that usually aren’t in the city centers. The biggest obstacle will be the pressure to “return to normal” instead of moving on to a way of operating that best serves those who need transit most.

Looking ahead, what future force of change has the greatest potential to transform or disrupt our region’s transit system?

Even before the pandemic, we were facing shifts in the ways people work (the rise of the gig economy and the impacts of automation), the ways people shop (the explosion of e-commerce and multi-channel retail), and the ways families live (an interest in a broader mix of housing typologies within walkable communities). The pandemic threw gasoline onto these fires of change, and I don’t think that we’ve yet seen things settle out yet. This has ripple effects over lots of policy issues, including transit.

Decades of underfunding have left the transit system in a constant state of austerity. Tradeoffs are almost always necessary when making decisions about improvement and expansion of the system. How do you recommend investing in the system to achieve the greatest regional impact?

Limits on resources will always be a challenge. We need to think of our regional transit as a true multi-modal network, not as separate transit systems that each operate in their own. Can we think about service, facilities, and operations in a truly integrated way regardless of what kind of vehicle is being used? Instead of thinking about how to allocate funds across city vs. suburbs and buses vs. trains, we need to zoom out and look at the big picture. Funding sources will be most effectively leveraged, and users will be most effectively served if we think about how these systems can function together.

What can we learn from efforts to advance equity in other public spheres and apply to transit to make a tangible difference?

Moving forward to a more just and equitable future will only be possible when conversations about planning (transit or otherwise) are done in an intersectional and expansive way. This definitely means including a diverse group of those who already use or even depend on transit but needs to go further to include those who haven’t traditionally ridden transit to better understand why they haven’t. How can we grow those who are engaged in the conversation and those who use the system? Who are the partners in transit that may not yet realize that they have a stake in the transit future? For example, pre-pandemic, we worked with Metra and a group of employers to fund a pilot of expanded reverse– commute train service. To our knowledge, it was the first privately funded public transit program in the region. How can we build on that idea to grow the discussion and find new solutions?

Regional mobility impacts everyone but is competing for attention among many worthy public policy issues. What, in your experience, has been the most successful way to engage people about transit issues?

In many ways, transit in and of itself, isn’t the most compelling topic. What can be compelling, however, are all the things that transit can support. The conversation isn’t really one about transit because transit is really just a means to an end. Transit allows us to have more sustainable communities. Transit allows us to improve our quality of life by reducing congestion and traffic. Transit allows everyone access to employment, healthcare and recreational opportunities that make living in our region great. When you think about it that way, transit’s value is more clear and compelling.

Why We Are So Excited to Celebrate Manufacturing Month

Earlier this year, the Chicago Tribune reported on Lake County’s huge boom in advanced manufacturing. The article discussed why local trends are emblematic of those seen nationwide—the industry has seen record growth as the economy expands and continues to recover from the pandemic. Month after month, manufacturing has continued to expand, with many companies creating new jobs and adding shifts to meet increased demand. Simply put, there has never been a better time to celebrate October’s “Manufacturing Month” than this year.

In Lake County, the second largest manufacturing county in Illinois, COVID-19 merely accelerated a trend that was already in place. Over the last two years, manufacturers have added 520 new factory jobs and invested approximately $180 million in land, buildings, equipment and more. Advanced manufacturing now employs nearly 51,000 people in Lake County, generating $35.7 billion in economic output per year and contributing more than 27% of Lake County’s gross domestic product. With 1 in 7 workers now in manufacturing, the industry is a major driving force in Lake County’s economy.


Top talent, advanced manufacturing innovations, leading-edge technology, reliable infrastructure, affordability and location are among the many factors driving local industry growth. Lake County has a pipeline of well-trained, qualified and eager workers who excel in a manufacturing environment. In fact, with Lake County’s 52,313 industry workers, it has TWICE the manufacturing talent than the national average. Importantly, the workforce is also diverse, with females representing 41%.

Lake County’s tremendous workforce is largely owed to the infrastructure of education that supports it. Through tours of state-of-the-art facilities, students and teachers are exposed to the rewarding career paths available in manufacturing. Connections between students and companies are further reinforced at institutions like the Lake County Tech Campus, which is widely-regarded as one of the best career and technical education training facilities in the Midwest. The Tech Campus has the largest career technical secondary educational system in Illinois, representing nearly 1,800 high school students from 22-member high schools in both Lake and McHenry counties.

Next door at the College of Lake County (CLC), 40% of majors directly correlated with the most in-demand jobs. CLC currently offers 35 career programs; through business intel, including that provided by Lake County Partners, CLC is able to efficiently tailor its programs and ensure that graduates have the skills that employers need. CLC’s capacity to meet demands is further expanded by the college’s recent investment in its Lakeshore campus, which brought welding and mechatronics to downtown Waukegan and doubled its capacity for the programs. CLC is also gearing up for its new Advanced Technology Center—the facility is expected to open in Gurnee next year. It will provide 182,000 sq. ft. of new hands-on learning space and become the focus of economic development opportunities for welding and numeric control (CNC). In celebration, CLC is embarking on a series of exciting events this month and inviting the public to take part.


As the county’s primary point of contact for businesses, Lake County Partners is skilled at meeting with company leaders, assessing needs, and assembling resources to address issues and pave the way for growth. In connecting with us, your company can tap into Lake County’s robust talent pipeline, explore incentives, leverage communications, and identify opportunities for future growth. As a non-profit organization, we provide these services at no cost. Contact us and see how you can capitalize on Lake County’s outstanding manufacturing success.

Lake County’s Export Exposure is Huge

Did you know that Lake County, Illinois is a large destination for international trade and foreign investment? In 2020, it was the second largest exporting county in Illinois, with an export revenue of a whopping $7 billion. In fact, Lake County’s exports account for 13% of the state’s total exporting in export values.

Lake County’s prominence in Illinois’ exporting is all the more important given the state’s domestic role as an exporting powerhouse. With a total export value of over $53 billion, Illinois is the fifth largest exporting state in the country, and number one in the Midwest. Illinois companies now export to 213 countries, with the most engagement in Canada, Mexico, Germany, Australia, China, Brazil, the UK and Japan.

Importantly, small and medium-sized businesses are driving the success; they make up 90% of the state’s exporters and account for 25% of the state’s total export value. The impact is huge, with direct exporting accounting for nearly 10% of the Gross State Product (GSP). This means that the size of your business doesn’t have to stand in the way of your company’s exporting potential—especially if you are operating in Lake County and can take advantage of the network of support and many exporting resources at your fingertips.


Though your ability to sell goods within the country shouldn’t be underestimated, it’s important to remember that 96% of the world’s consumers are outside of the U.S. and 70% of the world’s purchasing power is outside of the country too.

There is very likely a built-in global demand for your product, and tapping into these new markets will give you the opportunity to grow sales and revenue. Including an international component in your business strategy is almost certain to give your company an edge when it comes to growth and long-term viability.

Exporting also allows your company to stabilize seasonal markets and sales fluctuations. As your domestic business ebbs and flows, you can use exporting as a tool to recover local losses. In diversifying your customer base and portfolio, you can mitigate risks and enhance your company’s stability. Likewise, you can use exporting to leverage the life cycle of a product; products that are considered mature stage in this country might still be growing elsewhere.


Lake County businesses benefit from the services and support offered through us and partners like the Illinois Small Business Development and International Trade Center (ITC) at the College of Lake County. ITC is well-equipped to quickly assess your company at no cost and determine exporting opportunities. Through the ITC, you not only get personalized counseling and training, but you can also receive assistance processing documentation, automating trade leads and linking to key trade representatives. Connect with the ITC directly here, or contact us here to see how we can work together to prepare your business for the global stage.

The Top 10 Reasons to Locate Your Life Science Business in Lake County, Illinois

There are countless reasons that Lake County, Illinois leads in life science. We’re breaking down the top 10 to show why the area’s huge concentration of industry leaders, enormous pool of talent, and infrastructure of support can help you make the most of your business. By the time you get to the end of the list, feel free to contact us and learn more. We can help you get settled in among Lake County’s impressive roster of globally-recognized brands, mid-sized companies and innovative startups.


Consistently ranked in the top ten nationwide in life science clusters, Lake County is home to many of the world’s leading brands, including AbbVie, Abbott, Baxter, Horizon Therapeutics, and more.

Chicago’s northern suburbs also host the headquarters or major operations for many international leaders including Lundbeck, Astellas, Fresenius Kabi, and Takeda.

Include younger start-ups like Jaguar Gene Therapy and Nexus Pharma, and you have a vibrant life science ecosystem.


Approximately 80% of the life science jobs in the state of Illinois are located in Lake County. With over 120 companies, including 10 major corporate headquarters, the life science industry is Lake County’s largest economic sector and a huge draw for highly-skilled professionals in pursuit of jobs.

Chicago’s northern suburbs also have a strong base of support in contract research organizations, specialty manufacturers and a wide variety of professional service firms with deep experience serving life science clients.


Lake County’s highly-integrated educational system anticipates business needs. Students study at nationally-ranked public high schools, earn STEM credentials at the College of Lake County and Lake Forest College, and go on to receive doctoral degrees in an array of disciplines including neuroscience, molecular biology, pharmacy, medicine and more.

Because Illinois is one of the top states in the country producing science and engineering-focused bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, students don’t go far before returning to Lake County to pursue a rewarding career.


With more than 5.6 million people within a commute radius from Lake County, and 40,000 of them working in life science, you have access to the deepest talent pool in the Midwest, which includes a crop of newly minted college graduates and seasoned professionals exploring new opportunities.

In fact, Chicagoland is the #1 destination for BIG TEN university graduates. The 14 universities in the BIG TEN (we know, don’t ask), graduate thousands of students each year with life science-related degrees.


Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science is renowned for fostering innovation. The school’s 97-acre campus includes a new Innovation and Research Park designed to fuel collaboration between researchers and industry. State-of-the-art simulation labs, coupled with cutting-edge clinics, regular workshops and the Helix 51 incubator set a nurturing stage for start-ups, early-stage companies and international businesses looking for a “soft landing” in the Midwest.

Beyond Rosalind Franklin, young companies can tap into the resources available to the greater Chicago-Milwaukee market, which is ranked #1 in the Midwest for startups based on the region’s stellar activity, access to resources and nurturing business climate.


Chicagoland’s robust life science sector recently landed it on the top 10 locations in the country for biopharma activity according to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. Importantly, its strength lies in funding for life science, patents awarded, dedicated lab space and number of industry jobs. Lake County’s prime location ensures that you can easily tap into life science talent and assets from across the entire Chicago-Milwaukee metro region.


Illinois’ life science industry has enjoyed considerable growth, from legacy Lake County companies such as Abbott, AbbVie, and Horizon Therapeutics, to startups spun out of the state’s research universities.

Hundreds of thousands of square feet of new wet lab space are currently under development—much of it in close proximity to Lake County—and the state has paved the way for new high-tech facilities by launching a $9 million capital program aimed at expanding access to space and encouraging industry breakthroughs.


Lake County’s location between Chicago and Milwaukee, along the I-94 corridor, provides convenient one-day access to a large swath of North American industry. When it comes to attracting talent, strong multimodal connectivity makes recruiting and commuting around the region a snap.

Three nearby international airports—O’Hare, Mitchell International, and Midway—provide global access, while executives enjoy the perks of full-service private aircrafts at Waukegan National Airport.


Lake County’s large population enjoys a wide variety of communities and housing options. Local municipalities are regularly ranked among the top in the region and the nation because of the high-quality schools, recreational opportunities, transportation, healthcare access, fiscal stability and leadership. Here, you can have the career you want, and the life you want.

Simply put, people enjoy Lake County both in and outside of the office, which is why so many employees choose to live locally.


With a population of roughly 700,000, Lake County has close to 150,00 foreign-born community members. Chicagoland regularly ranks among the most diverse in the country, which brings a wide variety of valuable perspectives and experience to the table to drive your business forward.

The Secret to Lake County’s Manufacturing Success

The pandemic, lockdowns, and rapid re-opening have impacted nearly all aspects of life since March of 2020, and the ripple effect now has advanced manufacturers grappling with an increase in demand for talent, logistics, space and technology. In Lake County, businesses benefit from a built-in network of support that has enabled them to capitalize on renewed needs for packaging, PPE, testing and healthcare supplies.

Existing companies are expanding, new businesses are flocking in, and there is increased optimism for revenue and hiring growth. Over the last two years alone, manufacturers in Lake County have added 520 new factory jobs and invested approximately $180 million in land, buildings, equipment and more. As a result, it has been a banner year for local manufacturing.

Lake County’s flurry of business activity in general, and in advanced manufacturing in particular, bodes well for the back half of the year. Because of Lake County’s unique position at the crossroads of life science and manufacturing, local businesses such as Abbott, AbbVie, Walgreens, Pfizer and so many others find themselves literally leading the fight against the ever-changing conditions of the pandemic.

Lake County’s strong workforce will continue to set it apart when it comes to business leaders’ decision-making and ability to respond to changing consumer preferences. So too will its built-in network of support. Lake County’s public and private leaders alike understand that the continued prosperity and future success of businesses is directly linked to people and skills. They also know that businesses benefit from the size and diversity of the local labor pool, which boasts of a wide range of races, ethnicities and languages.

This is why Lake County Partners works closely with the College of Lake County, Workforce Development, Lake County Tech Campus, IMEC and others to develop and nurture talent and promote a safe, fair and inclusive home in which people of all backgrounds can comfortably work. As a result, majors offered at local educational institutions align with Lake County’s most in-demand jobs. Students complete affordable, award-winning career programs and graduate with in-demand skills that they can hone through countless training and certification options. Most importantly, talent is made the top priority, ensuring a huge competitive advantage for existing and new businesses looking to grow. If your company is considering future growth opportunities in Lake County, look no further than Lake County Partners to quickly assemble the resources that you need to meet pent-up demand.

Six Months of Success

2021 kicked off with a bang, and it’s been going strong ever since. As we approach the midway point of the year, we are reflecting on the top successful projects of the first six months. Though the COVID-19 epidemic lingers, the outlook is extremely positive. Illinois has transitioned into Phase 5, marking a return to business as usual. Though there are still challenges ahead for some of our smaller businesses as they adapt to changing consumer preferences, we forecast that government relief will continue to expedite the recovery.

The most recent unemployment rate for the county tracks at 5.7%, signifying huge progress and indicating that there are more than 42,000 people working the county than at this time last year. Though the labor force is still down from our pre-pandemic peak, we expect it to continue to rebound in the fall as school and childcare operations normalize.

Along with our partners, we remain laser-focused on ensuring that companies have what they need to safely resume operations. We have spent the first half of the year building on the tremendous progress that we are seeing in Lake County’s key industries; in particular, there has been a boom in manufacturing and life sciences in response to the pandemic. Many prominent corporate leaders have stepped up to meet local needs, and they are also behind the very technologies that are now benefitting the global community. It is with great pride that we survey the top accomplishments of the first six months of 2021:


After finalizing a deal to buy the 70-acre former Takeda property in Deerfield, the company unveiled its exciting plans for the space and began welcoming employees back to a cutting-edge office.


This exciting project came to fruition thanks to collaboration among the Village of Gurnee, Illinois DCEO and Lake County Partners, setting the stage for a new manufacturing facility and creating 25 new jobs.


Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science celebrated this exciting milestone for its $50 million, 100,000 sq. ft., state-of-the-art facility that has cemented Lake County’s position as a leader in life sciences. The park will accelerate Rosalind Franklin’s nationally-recognized research and support collaboration among academics, scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs. The first commercial tenant, Inspirotec, was founded by a former scientist from Abbott. Several new biomedical companies, including Covira Surgical, Voyant Diagnostics and Quantitative Neural Analysis, have also signed on to the facility’s Helix 51 incubator—a space that provides state-of-the-art laboratories for faculty and commercial startups, as well as small to mid-sized national and international biotech firms.


This long-standing Lake County manufacturer celebrated the completion of its new headquarters in Antioch, paving the way for new jobs and anticipated growth that will increase its workforce 10% each year for the next 5 – 10 years.


In an inspiring partnership between Horizon Therapeutics, Lundbeck, Takeda, iBIO, the Health Department and Lake County Partners, two new community vaccine clinics were established to meet community needs and ensure vaccine equity. Baxter International also partnered with the Health Department to meet vaccine needs in Round Lake Beach. Baxter has also partnered with MedTech to support a new innovation hub that will accelerate medical device startups.


A $250 million dollar renovation on this property to transform it into a regional lifestyle center has made the project one of the biggest and most anticipated projects in Vernon Hills history.


The College of Lake County (CLC) announced the launch of its new world-class Advanced Technology Center in Gurnee that will further serve the manufacturing community by providing career pathways. CLC also announced its partnership with MxD to expand its apprenticeship program and create a manufacturing talent pipeline suited to future business needs.


A $2 million investment made this new facility possible, ensuring that the airport complies with strict Department of Homeland Security requirements and will be able to receive international flights for the next 20 years.


Lake County earned the highly-coveted Gold designation from the national SolSmart program, making it faster and easier for businesses and homes in unincorporated areas to transition to solar energy.


Lake County companies continued to rake in the praise in national rankings. Mesirow Financial, Horizon Therapeutics, First Bank of Highland Park and RevenueWell were recognized on the Crain’s Chicago Business Best Places to Work List. Great Place to Work also congratulated AbbVie, Lundbeck and Horizon Therapeutics for being at the top of the healthcare and biopharma industries and singled out Abbott, Alight, Lundbeck, Takeda, Zoro, Synergy Flavors and Horizon Therapeutics as being among the best workplaces in the region.


The final accomplishment that we’d like to draw your attention to is one that we are particularly excited about, as it is certain to pave the way for a very busy back-half of the year. We received a $110,000 federal grant to lead the development of a new Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) that will create jobs, fuel collaboration and strengthen Lake County’s economy. Work is already underway to move the initiative forward, and we expect that it will conclude in early 2022 with strategic recommendations that we will move quickly to implement.


Over the past two years, Lake County Partners has been directly involved in creating 2,770 new jobs, retaining 1,478 new jobs and fueling more than $290 million in direct capital investments. We look forward to building on our momentum, and sharing our continued success with the local community.

We are Seeing the Silver Linings of the Pandemic

There is no question that the past 14 months have been among the most challenging that many of us have ever faced – yet, it has also been a defining period of collaboration and growth in Lake County. Over the last year, society reconfigured the way that it works. As a result, we’re now well-versed in an entirely new vocabulary of words like Zoom, PPE and mRNA.

Along the way, Lake County Partners has had the opportunity to work at the front lines with business and community leaders who are playing a large role in getting us back to “normal.” To assist the small businesses that have shouldered the brunt of the pandemic, we led the Lake County government’s rollout of $16.5 million in recovery grants that helped 1,200 companies remain open. We also worked with our partners at Lake County Workforce Development to spearhead a response to help Abbott fill over 2,200 critical COVID-19 test kit assembly jobs in Gurnee.

As we’ve grappled with the ongoing challenges brought about by the current situation, we’ve also celebrated the promise of a widespread vaccine rollout and a return to the world we once knew. Most recently, in a groundbreaking partnership with Horizon Therapeutics, Lundbeck, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited, iBIO and the Lake County Health Department, we opened two in-demand, privately funded COVID-19 vaccination sites in Zion that will go a long way toward ensuring vaccine equity over the next 10 weeks.

As we begin to emerge, there is plenty of cause for optimism. Our manufacturing sector continued to hum along through the pandemic and has broad plans for continued growth. Lake County’s key industries — life sciences, advanced manufacturing and distribution — have seen a surge in activity as they literally lead the country through this difficulty. Life science pioneers like Abbott, AbbVie, Baxter, Fresenius Kabi, Jaguar Gene Therapy and Novartis are advancing technology that saves and improves lives. Medical device manufacturers like Flexan, Jabil Healthcare, Flex, Sysmex, and Vyaire have been crucial in the production of lifesaving products. Distribution hubs, like the new 1.4 million sq. ft. Medline facility in the Alter Group’s Grayslake Cornerstone development, ensure that in-demand products are safely delivered to those in need across the world.

As future needs arise, Lake County will be ready as never before. In addition to Cornerstone, investments in speculative developments — like Bridge Point North, South Lake Industrial Center, Route 60 Logistics Center, Libertyville Corporate Center, and Hawthorn Mall — are at a high point, confirming confidence in the local market and setting the stage for a vibrant future. It’s no exaggeration to say that Lake County companies are shepherding important technologies, goods and services through their life cycles from beginning to end — a process made possible by Lake County’s robust talent pipeline and superb connectivity.

Though the labor market is tight, strategic collaboration among Lake County Partners, the Workforce Development Department, the College of Lake County, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, Lake Forest College and the Lake County Tech Campus is ensuring that our people have the skills that businesses need. Cutting-edge facilities, like the Advanced Technical Center just announced by the College of Lake County, will foster growth and innovation for decades to come.

Lake County continues to benefit from its central location between Chicago and Milwaukee on the I-94 corridor, four nearby airports, port and rail access and a tight-knit system of commuter options. To make sure that our employers can continue to recruit talent from across the region, we are driving conversations between Metra, Pace, the TMA of Lake Cook and the Lake County Division of Transportation and working together to reaffirm the safety of public transportation.

We believe strongly that riders will come back to public transit. Though we have weathered the brunt of the storm, there is still much to be done. Lake County Partners recently received a $110,000 federal grant to lead the creation of a new Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for Lake County. The initiative comes at an ideal time, because it will provide a mechanism to engage the community and establish a vision that will guide our recovery from the pandemic. As a result, Lake County will benefit from new jobs, more private investment and enhanced economic growth.

What Does the One-Year Anniversary of COVID Mean for Lake County?

As we near the 1-year anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdown, business continues to look a lot different than it once did. Through our work administering Lake County’s Small Business Development grant, we are all too familiar with the struggles of our small business community and know there is much more work to be done.

The accelerating rollout of multiple vaccines and loosening of quarantine regulations make us hopeful for a return to normalcy. So does the news that we are hearing from local business leaders. Two of Lake County’s key industries—life sciences and advanced manufacturing—are seeing a surge in growth. There is huge demand for packaging, PPE, testing and healthcare supplies; existing companies are expanding, and new businesses are relocating to Lake County to meet the need.

A continued tight labor market is driving wage increases and forcing businesses to explore new ways to attract, retain and upskill talent. As a result, we have seen an uptick in business engagement as companies reach out to take advantage of Workforce Ecosystem resources. We are hearing strong optimism for increased revenue and hiring this year. That hope is reflected in our project pipeline, which includes deals that could potentially result in more than 1.1 million sq. ft. of new and revamped space and 600+ jobs.

With speculative development soaring, a string of expansions at companies like Abbott, Visual Pak, Medline, Xttrium Labs, Luxor Furniture and Fischer Paper Products, new businesses such as Mighty Hook, AZ Polymers and LightMart putting down roots, significant investments in workforce development at the College of Lake County and Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, and big announcements primed for the coming months, we are confident that Lake County will emerge from the year-long disruption in a position of strength. We are doing our part to make it happen, and we are excited to see what the next few quarters bring.