Is there anything 'Made in Chicago?'

March 4, 2011 (CHICAGO)

We're taking a look in our own backyard to see what you can get that's made in and around Chicago.

Nabisco's Oreo cookies, Ritz Crackers and Fig Newtons, along with Keebler ice cream cones, Weber barbecue grills and Ford Explorers are all made right here in the Chicago area.

Legendary Lemonheads are among the famous candy brands manufactured in west suburban Forest Park at Ferrera Pan. The 108-year-old company employs nearly 500 people and just opened a second plant in Bellwood creating about 200 more jobs.

"Bellwood right now is about half distribution and half manufacturing," said Ferrera Pan Plant Manager John Conversa. "Our intention I would say over the next five to ten years is to make that whole facility manufacturing and then open a brand new warehouse, obviously local."

University of Illinois at Chicago Professor of Labor and Employment Relations Robert Bruno says there should be a greater push to court companies that will build factories here instead of office buildings.

"For every one manufacturing job you create, you create anywhere from six to nine additional jobs," Bruno said. "You're going to need truckers. You're going to need other service companies to provide the material to go into the primary industry and you're going to need the local hot dog stand."

In the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood, one of leading brands in African-American hair care supports 19 assembly lines every day.

The products that bear the Luster family name have been made in Chicago and suburban Blue Island for the past 54 years. The company employs about 300 people and says its part of their mission to keep jobs in the community.

"We've proven that we build better products than most of our competitors, but the other thing is that better benefit," said Luster Products President and CEO Jory Luster. "There is an opportunity to employ a son or daughter, a student or someone in this company."

Despite many company's run for the border, both Ferrara Pan and Luster Products say they have no plans to leave the Chicago area.

"With the price of gasoline, the price of fuel that's going up, if you're going to be shipping from Mexico, any labor savings that you might gain, you're going to offset that with fuel charges because you're traveling so far," Conversa said.

"If we begin to purchase products, outsource from China or anywhere else in the world or in the country for that matter, we would dis-employ," Luster said. "We would lose our co-workers and that's not what this business is about."

Experts say new green technology could provide the next wave of job growth in the Chicago's manufacturing industry.

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