DeKALB – More than a year after the project was announced in early 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit northern Illinois, Ferrara Candy Company officially opened its long-awaited distribution center during a Wednesday ribbon cutting ceremony.
According to a Wednesday news release from the State of Illinois, the facility will bring more than 500 local jobs. The project, located in the city’s Chicago West Business Park off of Gurler Road, also creates one of the state’s largest distribution and warehousing centers, according to the release.
DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes said it’s “absolutely wonderful” to have Ferrara as part of the community. He said the City of DeKalb is looking forward to being a continued partner with the company.
“We’re really excited to just continue our partnership that we have and look forward to mutual success in this particular endeavor,” Barnes said during Wednesday’s ribbon cutting.
Ferrara, headquartered in Chicago, has an operational network of 20 locations in North America, including the DeKalb complex and employs a total of more than 6,000 people – the majority of which are based in Illinois, according to the state’s news release.
“This is a milestone event for Ferrara, it’s a milestone event for DeKalb, it’s a milestone event for the state of Illinois,” Murray said. “And I’m excited to be here.”— Mike Murray, Ferrara Chief Operating Officer
Ferrara Chief Operating Officer Mike Murray said Wednesday the facility’s size is 1.6 million square feet. To give a better idea of how large that is, he said, “21 NFL football fields would fit inside this building.”
Murray also said hundreds of trucks also will come and go from the DeKalb facility.
“This is a milestone event for Ferrara, it’s a milestone event for DeKalb, it’s a milestone event for the state of Illinois,” Murray said. “And I’m excited to be here.”
Paul Borek, executive director for the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, said he was “thrilled” to be at the state-of-the-art distribution facility on Wednesday. He said the project “represents the largest project in recent memory, if not the history of the City of DeKalb and DeKalb County.”
“This huge project is a significant economic development driver, already producing jobs, tax revenue and incredible opportunity for the county,” Borek said.
Ferrara Candy Company, based in Chicago and known in the United States for making items such as Lemonhead, Trolli, Nerds and Red Hots, announced earlier in 2020 DeKalb won its bid – beating out a city in Wisconsin – and will invest $100 million in the city with a move into the facility near Interstate 88 by the end of 2020. The deal was expected to bring with it about 1,000 temporary construction jobs, and about 1,000 total employees by the time the entire distribution complex is completed.
Countywide municipalities, including City of DeKalb staff, for months prior to the early 2020 announcement appealed to Ferrara by offering property tax abatements, financial assistance in looping water main, grants from the Illinois Department of Transportation for roadway improvements and incentives from the DeKalb County Enterprise Zone.
Thanks to an intergovernmental agreement approved by countywide governing bodies, Ferrara will receive 50% of their property taxes abated over the next 15 years. According to the incentive agreement, the company will have two years to reach 1,000 jobs, and if they drop below 80% of that, they’ll have to give back a prorated share of the tax abatements. If they fall below 50%, the abatement will be suspended.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker was not physically present for the Wednesday event. However, he said in video recorded comments for the ribbon cutting that he was excited to see the company continue to expand in the state with the opening of its newest distribution center – “and during a pandemic, no less,” he added.
“I’m so glad that we can celebrate the impact of investing in our state’s economic development, creating more opportunities for job growth in DeKalb,” Pritzker said in the video.
Sylvia Garcia, acting director for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said the state is excited for Ferrara’s investment in Illinois. She said Ferrara has been no stranger to the state, with the company getting its start as a family owned venture more than 100 years ago in the Little Village community in Chicago.
“We’re really excited to see that long-term economic growth here in Illinois,” Garcia said. “I think, after the last year [with the COVID-19 pandemic], we’re really excited to go from emergency response to economic recovery and seeing that expansion happening.”
The ribbon cutting event was followed by a tour of the facilities, which are typically kept at a cool temperature of 60 degrees. Vince Ippolito, senior distribution director for Ferrara, said that’s to ensure the candy – namely, anything chocolate – doesn’t melt at the distribution center.
“That drives the whole temperature of the building,” Ippolito said.
Founded in 1908, Ferrara is related to The Ferrero Group – a Luxembourg-based confectioner known for making Nutella – and was formed in 2012 after a merger between Illinois-based Ferrara Pan Candy Company and Minnesota-based Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company.
Ferrara acquired a portion of Nestlé's U.S. candy line April 1, 2018, for $2.8 billion, which included taking over operations for lines such as Sweet Tarts, Nerds and Laffy Taffy, Ferrara executives previously said. On July 29, 2019, Ferrara completed a second acquisition, this time worth $1.3 billion from Kellogg Company, and included brands such as Keebler, Mother’s and Murray Cookies and Famous Amos. The Keebler acquisition also included Little Brownie Bakers, supplier to the Girls Scouts of America.
Illinois State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said after the ribbon cutting one of the key components tp makes a project like this work is the infrastructure around the site, including surrounding roads, access to sewer and water and electrical hookups.
“Once you lay that groundwork, you also open up new spots for development,” Demmer said. “So when you’re able to get those pieces in place for Ferrara, we then have those pieces in place for Facebook – you have those pieces in place for other developments nearby.”
Illinois State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, said he and Demmer have been focused on making sure the county has “an economic shot in the arm” so it can further “grow and prosper to the potential that it truly has.” He said he believes the ribbon cutting represents the first concrete step in moving that objective forward.
“I’m excited that we have so many world renowned organizations that are finally seeing the potential of DeKalb County,” Keicher said. “And we’re welcoming them into our community.”
On Oct. 28, 2019, the DeKalb City Council approved plans for a facility that would have 1,000 jobs by 2020 at the 343-acre site between Route 23 and Gurler Road, with an additional 466,000-square-foot food packaging center, which will be Phase 2 of the project.
Former DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said he was glad to be able to take part in the ribbon cutting after the City of DeKalb brought the company into the area.
“This may be the end of construction of this campus, it certainly is not the end of economic development,” Smith said. “And the city of DeKalb and with the leadership of DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes and Bill Nicklas, our city manager, and the City Council that is, in fact, firmly entrenched in expanding economic development, I think bright days continue for us.”
• Daily Chronicle editor Kelsey Rettke contributed to this report.