DeKALB – DeKalb County is set to undergo a significant job boom over the next year, with Chicago-based candy manufacturer Ferrara Candy Company headed to DeKalb's south side, and a grocer headed to Sycamore, each bringing hundreds of jobs.
DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith called Ferrara's confirmation a "catalyst for even further economic development."
"Not only in that vicinity but all of those things that jobs and an added number of folks living and shopping in the area is going to mean,' Smith said.
Grand Rapids, Michigan-based grocer Meijer will open its doors in Sycamore near the intersection of Peace Road and Route 23 sometime in the spring. The big-box retailer has also announced it is looking to fill 300 jobs.
It's a time where smaller businesses are attempting to get in on the momentum, too.
A not-yet-announced knowledge-based company is also interested in DeKalb's south side and could bring 100 to 200 high-paying, technology jobs.
Chicago-based Ferrara Candy Company, known in the United States for making items such as Lemonhead, Trolli, Nerds and Red Hots will invest $100 million in a 1.6 million-square-foot distribution center and 466,000 square-foot food packaging center which will sit on the 343-acre site between Route 23 and Gurler Road known as ChicagoWest Business Center.
Though the types of jobs Ferrara will offer isn't yet clear – and Sarah Kittel, head of corporate affairs at Ferrara, did not respond to request for comment when asked about job specifics and hiring metrics – they're expected to have the first 500 filled by the time the distribution center is operational. Another 500 will staff the packing center, and 1,000 temporary construction jobs are attached.
City Manager Bill Nicklas said he didn't know job specifics but said he believes the company is set to be ready in about a year.
"They want to be up and running in the distribution center around March of 2021," Nicklas said. "The building construction is about a year-long process, and the weather will dictate if there can be faster progress or delays."
Job growth in DeKalb County
Since 2017, over 800 jobs have been created in the county, according to numbers from the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, and over $140 million has been invested into the community. The DeKalb County labor market includes over 611,000 workers within a 40-mile radius, according to dcedc.org.
The U.S. Labor Department said Friday that employers added 225,000 jobs in January. At the same time, a half-million Americans, feeling better about their job prospects, streamed into the job market. Most found jobs. But those that didn’t were newly counted as unemployed, and their numbers raised the jobless rate to 3.6% from December’s half-century low of 3.5%.
"It's huge when you can inject that many quality jobs into the marketplace," said DeKalb County Board chairman Mark Pietrowski when the Ferrara announcement was made. "When we established these different economic programs that were meant to bring in and attract quality companies, this was the goal."
The proportion of Americans in their prime working years — ages 25 through 54 — who either have a job or are looking for one has reached its highest point since September 2008, just before the recession intensified.
Ferrara's website does not yet list any job openings in DeKalb on their website.
A look at Ferrara's extensive job postings for various sites in Bellwood, Chicago, Itasca, Bolingbrook, and facilities in Kentucky, Georgia and Michigan shows an array of multi-level positions including manufacturing and administration.
Though no pay is listed on the Ferrara website job postings – which range from senior manager of consumer insights and manufacturing project manager, to machinist, production lead, material handler, food production laborer and janitor.
On Friday, bulldozers could be seen at the site. Nicklas said construction on footing and foundation for the Ferrara distribution center began Jan. 6.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.