This report contains the findings and recommendations from a preliminary assessment of the food system in Waukegan, Illinois and the surrounding Lake County region conducted by New Venture Advisors LLC in 2020.
The assessment explored the need and support for a set of projects conceptualized beginning in late 2018 by Adelante Center for Entrepreneurship: a food hall, a kitchen incubator, and an urban farm with a market and café. Research implications would refine these business concepts for a feasibility study planned in a continuing phase of work.
As the research was concluding, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic changed the economic and food system landscape abruptly and drastically. The impacts of these changes are not reflected in the findings. Adelante has already shifted its programming focus away from the retail food projects until customer and investor interest can be reliably assessed. The organization is pivoting toward programs to address food insecurity and delivery systems.
Adelante and New Venture Advisors will refocus the next phase of work to support this change in direction. The findings in this report may help in benchmarking and shaping Adelante’s future role.
Investment in three food businesses has been planned as a catalyst to spur community development and downtown revitalization in Waukegan. The goal is to make downtown more of a destination for people who conduct their business or go to the theater and would otherwise leave. It is also to promote food security throughout the region.
Interviewed 12 local leaders to discuss the needs and opportunities in the food system, and how the envisioned enterprises and programming could address them. Interviews covered a range of topics including community development, food access (grocery, restaurant, hunger relief), urban farming and workforce development.
Analyzed detailed demographic and market data for the trade area from sources including public databases, syndicated research, and proprietary analyses. Completed by Market & Feasibility Advisors, a collaborating partner of New Venture Advisors.
In general, there is support for the proposed set of enterprises and no additional models were suggested as better alternatives. The need in the community – for food and grocery access, job and opportunity access – is clear to respondents, and they support undertaking these projects to address them. To initiate, grow and sustain all of the above, until the community is strengthened with individuals, families, workers, businesses, and programs that are self-sustaining, is a vision worth pursuing with a long-term focus. A few cautions were consistently mentioned: