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Cool Stuff Made in the Chicago Area – Crain’s Chicago Business

The Chicago area is home to nearly 12,000 companies that are designing and creating a huge range of products for consumers, businesses and other customers. While some are household names and others less so, many have an ongoing need for workers. Here is a small sampling of some locally made products, the companies that make them and the types of job opportunities that may be available.

Barry Callebaut Chocolate

Makes: Chocolate, cocoa products

Where: River North, Archer Heights

Website: barry-callebaut.com/en-us

North America’s largest supplier of chocolate and cocoa products has its Americas headquarters in River North and a manufacturing facility in the Archer Heights neighborhood. An estimated one of every four pieces of chocolate consumed worldwide contains Barry Callebaut products, including locally produced sweets like Vosges Chocolate and national brands such as Oreos. The Belgian-based company applies a 100-year-old whole-bean roasting technique that preserves the flavors and aromatic oils within the cocoa husk and fully releases them into the chocolate, a technique that’s used today by artisan, small-batch chocolate makers.

CAREERS: Barry Callebaut seeks candidates with a background in food manufacturing, especially those with expertise in engineering, operations, production, quality assurance and supply chain. The company prides itself on taking a diverse and inclusive approach to hiring, and promises to give employees the training and tools to succeed—plus a lot of delicious chocolates.

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Makes: Hair care products

Where: Near West Side, remote

Website: curlmix.com

CurlMix products are created for people with naturally curly hair, using a four-step system that helps them achieve “the wash and go of their dreams.” The innovative take on hair care has won praise from Refinery29, Essence Magazine, Ebony Magazine and ABC TV, where the founders appeared on Shark Tank in 2019. All products feature 12 ingredients or less, including natural oils from flaxseeds, grape seeds, aloe vera and avocado. The company’s 20 employees work remotely and as well as from a small business incubator on the city’s Near West Side.

CAREERS: In preparation for team growth, CurlMix is accepting applications for the following jobs: cosmetic chemist, customer service specialist, operations specialist, photographer, sales and marketing lead, Shopify web developer and social media coordinator.

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Grieve Ovens

Makes: Industrial ovens

Where: Round Lake

Website: grieve.com

If you thought ovens were used only for baking, and found only in kitchens, Grieve Corp. will prove you wrong. The family-owned business, founded in 1949, is the leading manufacturer of industrial ovens (and furnaces) found in dozens of countries around the globe. Custom designed, engineered on-site and built in its 100,000-square-foot Round Lake facility, Grieve ovens are constructed as small as a microwave and as large as a single-family home. Manufactured for industries including aerospace, automotive, medical, defense and more, they’re built to endure the heat and last decades . . . and they do.

CAREERS: Grieve seeks workers interested in cutting-edge engineering, dedicated craftsmanship and a passion for exceeding customer requirements. It offers jobs in customer service, manufacturing, mechnical and electrical engineering, sales, sheet metal and welding.

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Makes: Probiotic sports drink

Where: Back of the Yards

Website: kombuchade.com

In 2015, local engineer and longtime rugby player Matt Lancor formed a company to manufacture and market this light, crisp form of kombucha, a fermented, lightly effervescent, sweetened tea drink commonly consumed for its purported health benefits. The so-called “performance kombucha” is sold throughout the Chicago area as an alternative to sports and energy drinks, and to support athletes and others with gastrointestinal issues. Its smooth style is low in sugar with no added juice, flavoring or coloring, blending the best of the western scientific world with an ancient healing beverage from the east.

CAREERS: The company has an ongoing need for “brew crew” members and within the next 12 months is expected to add administrative personnel, delivery people, finance professionals and sales staff.

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Nielsen-Massey Vanillas

Makes: Premium vanilla products

Where: Waukegan

Website: nielsenmassey.com

The third-generation family-owned company has been producing premium vanilla products and other food flavorings in the Chicago area for more than 100 years. Its proprietary cold, slow extraction process yields products that have become favorites of chefs and bakers around the world and its products are sold in retail outlets as well as to foodservice and manufacturing customers. It was the first to introduce an organic and fair-trade vanilla from Madagascar and remains committed to supporting the plants, people and communities that supply its beans. Products are all-natural, allergen-free, certified kosher, gluten-free and non-GMO Project verified.

CAREERS: Nielsen-Massey seeks skilled, dedicated and enthusiastic professionals. Positions include maintenance, manufacturing/production and quality control.

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Phoenix Bean Tofu

Makes: Tofu, soy products

Where: Edgewater

Website: phoenixbean.com

Phoenix Bean has supplied the Chicago area with fresh, artisanal tofu for more than 35 years, and is a leader in one of the fastest-growing segments of the food industry. Its Phoenix Bean and Jenny’s Tofu brands include more than a dozen soybean and tofu products designed for customers seeking healthy, plant-based protein. All products are made daily from non-GMO, Midwest-grown soybeans raised with no chemicals, pesticides or fungicides. The company combines traditional handcrafting techniques with modern quality control procedures. Its manufacturing facility in Edgewater is currently expanding to meet future market demands.

CAREERS: Phoenix Bean welcomes new team members from a variety of backgrounds, and in some cases training is available. Jobs include commercial truck/equipment operator, customer service representative, facilities management associate, food production and manufacturing, food safety and quality specialist, retail sales representative/manager and tofu maker/R&D.

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Makes: PPE shields, panels, panel extenders

Where: Elgin

Website: rieke.com

As the pandemic continues, Rieke Office Interiors is helping businesses get back on their feet by making sure employees get back to work safely. Its SafeSpace™ line of specially designed protective shields, panels and panel extenders were inspired by the face shields that health care workers wear to protect themselves from COVID-19. Originally designed for use in offices, the products proved so popular that Rieke expanded the line to include units for gyms, restaurants, bars and other settings. An estimated 28% of orders have been for custom-manufactured shields, allowing customers to get the best solution for their needs.

CAREERS: Rieke seeks creative individuals who want to work with others to come up with innovative ideas in a relaxing, yet upbeat work environment. Positions include furniture installer, interior designer, manufacturing, millwork estimator, operations manager, order processing specialist and sales.

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Makes: Seat belt warning system

Where: West Humboldt Park

Website: freedmanseating.com

As federal and local regulations continue to advance transportation safety initiatives, SeatLink™ offers a practical extension to seat belts by displaying and tracking the occupancy and belt issues of passenger seats and providing visual warnings to the driver. The system triggers an alert if an occupant sits but doesn’t buckle, or buckles before sitting. It also records and stores data that can be retrieved in case of an accident or other event. Freedman Seating, a family-owned and operated company founded in 1894, developed the product, which is powered by InterMotive Vehicle Controls, a leading manufacturer of electronic control systems. Manufacturing takes place at Freedman’s West Humboldt Park headquarters.

CAREERS: Freedman seeks people who want to work in a collaborative, fast-paced manufacturing environment. Jobs include assembler, grinder, polisher, inventory control specialist, maintenance mechanic, material handler, robot operator, upholsterer and welder.

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Top Derm

Makes: Video game for dermatologists

Where: Loop, remote

Website: levelex.com

Medical video game company Level Ex has carved out a distinct space at the intersection of medicine and entertainment, bridging gaps in the health care industry through state-of-the-art video game technology and design. Through a series of quick-burst challenges, its latest offering, Top Derm, provides an opportunity for dermatologists to strengthen their skills and remain up-to-date on the latest industry techniques, treatments and products. Cutting-edge visual effects technology creates new images of dermatological conditions on any skin tone and in any lighting condition. In fact, the images are reportedly so realistic that dermatologists struggle to discern them from real photos.

CAREERS: Level Ex adopted a work-from-home model during COVID-19 and is currently accepting applications to work remotely from anywhere in the U.S. Positions include client services, game development, marketing, operations, product managers, sales and software engineering.

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TURF Acoustical Solutions

Makes: Wall tiles, ceiling baffles, screens

Where: Chicago, Gilberts

Website: turf.design

TURF acoustical solutions fight the dreaded “open-space echo” in workspaces, retail and entertainment venues, making them more habitable, better for concentration and more effective for communication. The pleasing-to-the-eye, custom-specified wall tiles, ceiling baffles, screens, partitions and more are designed and engineered in Chicago and manufactured on demand in Gilberts. Architects and designers depend on TURF Design, founded in 2016, to bring their creative designs to life. The company has more than 80 employees throughout Chicagoland creating solutions that fuse art, architecture and technology. TURF believes that through acoustics, it can transform a person’s relationship to the environment.

CAREERS: Jobs at TURF Design include assembly, CNC operator, operations management, packaging, product design, engineering, project estimator and shipping.


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