At the Plant, entrepreneurs turn waste into jobs

November 8, 2011

Robin Amer and Shannon Heffernan

The old saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” may be a tired cliché, but the operators of small business incubator on Chicago’s Southwest Side hope this mantra will help them turn spent grain into money and fish waste into jobs.

Tucked away on a dead-end corner of 46th Street, the Plant is a collection of food-related small businesses working together in a kind of entrepreneurial ecosystem whereby the waste from one company – spent grain from the brewery, for example – becomes literal fuel – charcoal briquettes – for the bakery upstairs.

Plant founder John Edel, who colleagues describe as a “benevolent mad scientist,” says that by "following the waste" and finding the inefficiencies inherent in any manufacturing process, he and his team can create jobs and rebuild the economy of a neighborhood that was once home to the Union Stockyards and countless related jobs. The Plant received a $1.5 million grant from the state to help create 125 jobs in its 93,000 sq. ft. facility, which they hope will put a dent in replacing the estimated 400 jobs lost when Peer Food Products shut down their meat processing operations at the site in 2006.

Front & Center visited the Plant in October to see how Edel and his team are trying to pioneer a new model of business ecology and job creation. You can see what they’re up to in the video above.