Black-owned manufacturer plans West Side growth

The Will Group to build 40,000-sq.-ft. addition in North Lawndale

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

The Will Group, a black-owned electric power equipment manufacturer that already has a presence on the West Side, is looking to build a 40,000-square-foot plant in North Lawndale at 825 S. Kilpatrick Ave. 

The company and the City of Chicago are currently in the process of finalizing a deal that would allow the company to buy a 3.3-acre site. Once the sale is completed, The Will Group expects the construction to take around 12 months. The company expects to hire 14 people.

Jessica Davis, the company's chief operating officer, said that they will hire local and will work with area non-profits to hire ex-offenders. She said that the company is well aware that criminal records are a significant barrier to getting jobs, and believes that ex-offenders who served time for non-violent crimes deserve a chance to work. 

The Will Group was founded 33 years ago. Davis described it as a black-owned, family-owned enterprise. It manufactures lighting and power equipment, and, most recently, has gotten into making solar panels. 

The Wheaton-based company has an office in the Loop and a manufacturing facility in Austin at 5261 W. Harrison, not far from the site of the new facility. 

According to a City of Chicago press release, the property in Austin has been vacant for the past 15 years. Although valued at $440,000, The Will Group is buying it for $5.5 million. Davis said that the company has not received any financial assistance. 

According to the city's press release, the new facility will primarily be used by 

The Will Group's Lyons View Manufacturing and Supply subsidiary, but other subsidiaries —namely Electrical Resource Management, Lighting Solutions of Illinois, and TWiG Technologies —  will use the building as well. 

The facility will "manufacture smart LED light fixtures, solar panels, capacitor banks, reclosers, and other electrical products." 

Josh Davis, The Will Group's president, states in the city's release that combining all of the subsidiaries under one roof will help the company.

'"By consolidating our production resources, this project will be key to The Will Group's continued success and expansion beyond the traditional boundaries of the lighting business," he said.

Jessica Davis said that the new facility will have more space than the existing Austin facility. And while they rent the Austin space, they will own the new facility's land and the building outright. She added that they would still use the Austin facility once the new facility is up and running. 

Ald. Michael Scott (24th), whose ward includes the site, said that he has been actively pushing to create jobs by persuading companies to develop long-vacant lots in the traditionally industrial portions of North Lawndale, which is why he supports the project. 

"We are taking vacant lots and turning them into viable community anchors for the West Side," he said. "Working together with the city, our community leaders and strong business partners like The Will Group, we are transforming the West Side and bringing more jobs to this community."

The press release indicates that the facility will employ a total of 34 people, 14 of whom will be new hires. 

"We like to hire local, we want to create jobs, because we want to make sure that we're not just creating jobs, we're creating communities," Davis said, adding that hiring "chronically unemployed" and ex-offenders will be a priority.

"We believe in giving second chances to non-violent offenders and helping them get jobs locally," Davis said.

She said The Will Group will be working with Metropolitan Family Services, Ald. Scott's office and the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council. 

Davis said that The Will Group and the city are still working on finalizing the sale.

"We hope to be done pretty soon, so we can break ground before the end of year," she said.

Davis said that they hope to have the facility up and running "next year." When pressed for a more specific timeline, she said that they are operating under an assumption that construction would take around 12 months – though they hope to have it finished quicker than that. 

Davis added that she expects environmental remediation as the biggest challenge and that it may affect the timetable.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly noted that the expansion was 400,000 square feet, instead of 40,000 square feet. Austin Weekly News regrets the error. 

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com     

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