The new Method soap plant marks its official grand opening Tuesday in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood. The community has been on an economic climb in the past few years. This is the latest boost for the once-thriving manufacturing hub on the city’s far South Side.
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama paid a visit to Pullman to designate the neighborhood’s factory district a national monument.
“This site is at the heart of what would become America’s labor movement. And as a consequence what would become America’s middle class,” the President said before an audience in February at Pullman.
Pullman’s history started in the late 1800s when George Pullman founded a community centered around the manufacturing of luxury sleeping railcars. People worked at the factory and lived in nearby row houses constructed by Pullman. The site is key to the nation’s labor movement and civil rights. One of the most powerful African-American unions got its start here, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
But business eventually started to dwindle and all production ceased in the late 1960s. High unemployment rates, crime and lack of amenities became Pullman’s image.
“When anybody talks about Pullman, they always talk about the past. And what we’re trying to do with our neighbors around here is try to create a future for Pullman that’s worth talking about,” said Adam Lowry, co-founder of Method.
The company makes eco-friendly cleaning products, like biodegradable dish soap and foaming hand wash. Method’s new facility is located on the old Ryerson Steel site along the Bishop Ford Expressway. It’s flanked by green space and decorated with solar panels over the parking lot. A big wind turbine is on the land.
“I like seeing things like Canada geese walking around our property because, believe me a year ago, there was nothing alive on this site at all,” said Lowry.
The $30 million facility is a Platinum LEED building, the highest certification for green construction. It uses renewable energy and 100 percent recycled plastic for its bottles. A greenhouse covers the roof. The company does this while aiming to be socially responsible by investing in an underserved urban area. That’s why it chose to set up its first ever manufacturing plant in Pullman.
Andrea Reed is with the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce. It’s provided service to both Pullman and Roseland, where the unemployment rate is high, around 20 to 25 percent. Chicago’s is just over 6 percent. Reed says the chamber has been looking for companies like Method.
“Currently, we have a lot of businesses that commute here. We have a slogan. ‘They come for the day, get their pay and go their way,’” Reed said.
Method and other companies that have recently set up shop have agreed to hire mostly from within the community. They’ve added several hundred jobs, which might not seem like much, but Reed hopes it’ll spur hiring amongst the local small businesses.
She also thinks the national designation will make a difference.
“They’re looking to attract 300,000 tourists each year. So people are going to be looking for nice places to eat and places to shop. And the spillage will be people coming over into our business corridor,” she said.
Community development group, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives helped bring Wal-Mart, Ross and Planet Fitness to Pullman. David Doig with CNI says it’s serendipitous, but it’s been years in the making.
“We’ve got 200 acres here at Pullman Park, and we’ve developed about 70 of that. So if you kind of project that out, we probably have another 8-10 years of work to do,” Doig said.
Back at the Method plant, Roseland resident Barbara Hardaman is taking inventory of shower cleaner coming down the conveyer belt. Before this, she worked at her local church. It’s only been a few months and Hardaman says she loves her job.
She thinks companies like Method will have a lasting impact on the area.
“With people having jobs, they’re not out in the streets trying to rob people and hurt people,” she said.
Pullman is following the city’s trend of a decreasing crime rate. The community’s rate dropped by 14 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year. Hardaman’s seen signs of the neighborhood moving up, and thinks people, soon, will want to move in.
“I had two houses across the street from me that were boarded up, but now they’re refurbishing them,” Hardaman said.