Common goals unite sectors for state food, ag strategy


            Chicago officials and food industry leaders who spoke at last week’s Illinois Food and Agriculture Summit favored strategic planning to make Chicago and Illinois a national, even global, epicenter in the food industry.

            “How do we best work together -– not if we work together,” Jeff Malehorn, president and chief executive officer of World Chicago Business (WBC), told the Vision for Illinois Agriculture meeting at the University of Illinois Chicago Forum.

            Malehorn noted WBC and Vision for Illinois Agriculture share several goals in their respective strategies. He mentioned those to develop a diverse workforce and to support entrepreneurship.

            “What’s good for Chicago is what’s good for the suburbs ... is what’s good for the state,” Malehorn said. “I look at this as one team to make Chicago and the state be a leader in food and agriculture.”  

            Marc Schulman, president of Eli’s Cheesecake Co., emphasized the educational benefits that flow from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. The Vision for Illinois Agriculture supports providing Illinois students with a world-class education.

            “Education is a very important part of what we do at the CME group,” added David Lehman, the group’s managing director of commodity research and product development. “Education is a big part of what we need to invest in.”

            Audience members chuckled after Lehman described agriculture as “sexy.” Demand is growing for college graduates interested in ag-related careers, and agribusiness firms face more competition for those grads, he explained.

            Chicago Deputy Mayor Steve Koch encouraged summit attendees and all sectors of the ag and food industries to coalesce on a strategic food industry plan for Chicago and Illinois. “This is an interesting, aspirational goal,” Koch told FarmWeek.