December 8, 2023

Why did UPSIDE Foods Choose Glenview?

Businesses need the right site, and it means a lot more than land.

As first published in Crain’s Chicago Business: Upside Foods Glenview site selection says a lot about Illinois

Image Credit: Upside Foods

By: Dan Seals, Chief Executive Officer of Intersect Illinois

Recently, UPSIDE Foods announced plans to locate its first commercial production facility in Glenview, just north of Chicago. As the first cultivated meat company to receive FDA approval, this is a major boon for Illinois’ thriving food technology ecosystem. The company will invest $141 million and create 75 jobs.

But why did this pioneer in the future of food choose to do its manufacturing in a suburb better known for office parks and corporate headquarters? Many factors came into play but a critical one was site readiness—the capacity of a location to get up and running quickly. In this regard, Upside Foods is hardly unique.

I regularly meet with business leaders from a variety of industries looking for the right place to grow their companies. The conversation usually focuses on factors such as the available workforce, access to railroads and highways, and an abundant supply of reliable energy. But none of these things matter if there is not an available site that is ready to go. For this reason, the federal government should encourage or incentivize private sector investment in site readiness.

Image credit: Getty Images

Across the U.S. the manufacturing boom is facing a key bottleneck: the availability of ready sites for makers of electric vehicles, microchips, clean-energy technologies, and other goods critical to building a sustainable future. Federal incentives like those offered through the Inflation Reduction Act have supercharged demand for ready manufacturing sites, but it takes much more than available acreage to attract business. Megasites—those that are 1,000 acres or more—need power and water, and lots of it. A single megasite might need more than 250 megawatts of electricity, enough to power tens of thousands of homes. Moreover, climate-conscious companies increasingly expect that energy to be sustainably generated from wind, solar, nuclear, or hydro.

Utilities are just the start. Goods have to get out of the factory gates and onto shelves and showrooms around the world. Easy access in the form of highways, railways, runways, and waterways is vital to ensuring speedy access to markets. From EV gigafactories to e-commerce distribution centers, these sites must be able to handle hundreds of heavy truckloads or train cars every day. Just as important, they must be located near a large pool of skilled, motivated workers to fill manufacturing, engineering, IT, logistics, administrative, and other roles. With unemployment hovering near 50-year lows, workforce availability is a critical element in location decisions.

Illinois is better positioned than most when it comes to the availability of megasites. But for the U.S. to achieve the vision laid out in its industrial policies, more funds should be made available for site readiness. All the incentives in the world simply won’t matter if there aren’t sites for companies to locate in.

Intersect Illinois, the business attraction arm of the state, is taking matters into its own hands by vetting sites before companies come looking. Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is also investing resources into site readiness. But current funding pales before the task at hand. Federal policies that encourage private investment in land improvements would lay the foundation—quite literally—for new companies to quickly come in and create jobs. Paired with national legislation like the IRA, CHIPS Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, such an approach would accelerate the renewal of the nation’s industrial might and creation of a sustainable, prosperous future for all.

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