Detour to Machine Builder City

Made in Elk Grove Manufacturing & Technology Expo, a One-Day Event, is Now Two Years Old With 90 Exhibiting Companies,1,000 Visitors And Is as Big as Some Tradeshows Covering far Larger Regions

By Jim Montague

I really need to be more careful driving because I can't help seeing interesting stuff. And my smartphone doesn't help because now I can take pictures of everything. Well, at least I stop before snapping—most of the time.

Anyway, I was driving to work a couple of years ago, when I had to take a detour due to a freight train taking a long nap across an intersection up ahead. So, I was forced to venture more deeply than ever before into the huge industrial park just west of O'Hare International Airport and located in the municipality of Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

Now, I've been all over this area before, or so I thought, because I came upon a strange sight. One of the big warehouses on Pratt Avenue had its equally big, garage-style doors open, and inside was an army of old press brakes, machining centers and other industrial equipment. I'm sure many of the machines were in various stages of refurbishment, rebuilding or decommissioning, but my glance and mental snapshot made it look like someone had sealed up an IMTS exhibit hall about 30 years ago and just let the dust and cobwebs take over. I felt a little like one of those anthropologists who discovers an ancient, buried city, except it's still up and running like Rome or Paris.

Also Read: Entry Into the Chinese Machine-Building Market Might Be Explained by Elephant Jokes

This was the first of several wakeup calls alerting me to the fact that I've been sitting on a hotbed of machine builders and end users. How convenient for me covering this field, but not very surprising given the Chicago area's long and varied industrial history. Even so, after many years covering industrial tradeshows nationwide and internationally, I was startled again when I ran across the Made in Elk Grove Manufacturing & Technology Expo on Oct. 21. The one-day event is now two years old and, with 90 exhibiting companies and 1,000 visitors, is as at least as big as some similar tradeshows covering far larger regions.

This shouldn't be too surprising because the expo draws its exhibitors from the Elk Grove Business Park, which covers more than 5 sq miles and is the largest industrial park in North America. It's home to more than 3,600 businesses, which are staffed by about 100,000 employees. These companies and their workers are served by Elk Grove's municipal services, but its high school, local community colleges and even the library and park district all have a hand in supporting the village's business community. "Beyond Business Friendly" is its recent motto.

"It's essential for Elk Grove to support our businesses because the industrial park contributes about 80% of the village's revenue," says Josh Grodzin, Elk Grove's business development marketing director. "About five years ago, the park's vacancy rate was 14-15%, and so we started some of our more recent efforts, including Made in Elk Grove, to assist our manufacturers with the challenges they face. More recently, we've driven the vacancy rate back down to just 7%."

You too may find neighbors with capabilities you thought had to cross time zones to get.

Ironically, even though the expo featured dozens of machine and equipment builders, end users and product manufacturers, and related suppliers and service providers, Grodzin adds many more haven't attended the event yet. Consequently, because the park is so big, many of its occupants don't know what their neighbors are building and producing that could be useful to them and are buying products and paying to transport items they could get in their own town. Some of the show's other organizers report one of their main aims is to get the park's residents to realize and use the supply chain that's all around them. Apparently, I'm not the only one who's unaware of the hotbed he's sitting on.

As for me, I now have another rich vein of potential content and contributors to mine, and I don't have to get on an airplane to reach them. I'll investigate and report on as many as I can. You too may find neighbors with capabilities you thought had to cross time zones to get. It happens all the time with builders, integrators and uses. Even long-time business associates frequently say to each other, "I didn't know you did this."

So, keep you eyes on road, but also slow down and stop sometimes, and look around. More than likely, you'll glimpse something cool and find some useful resources hiding in plain sight.