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South Side Group Gets $5 Million City Grant To Bring Tech Workforce Center To Greater Grand Crossing

If all goes well with fundraising, Xchange Grand Crossing, a $27 million project, could open in January 2025, training a new generation of tech leaders, project officials said.

Leaders at the Xchange Grand Crossing received a $5 million city grant to build a workforce site at 7301 S. Chicago Ave.
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GREATER GRAND CROSSING — A workforce development center that will fuel the next generation of tech leaders could soon open in Greater Grand Crossing, creating a “beacon of innovation and impact” on the South Side, project leaders said. 

Leaders at the Comer Education Campus received a $5 million community development grant from the city this month to build Xchange Grand Crossing. The 50,000-square-foot hub at 7301 South Chicago Ave. will train and employ neighbors interested in jobs in the tech industry. 

Bitwise Industries, a California-based company that “builds tech economies in underestimated cities,” will be the anchor tenant of the building, said Emily Emmerman, special projects director. 

The $27 million project is the “extension of decades of community development that the Comer Foundation has done in Grand Crossing,” Emmerman said. Local community partners — including CHAMPS Male Mentoring, Ring of Hope, Network for Young Adult Success, Community Neighborhood Initiatives and more — joined forces with the campus for one of the “biggest, all-hands-on-deck projects to date,” Emmerman said. 

The $5 million grant “supercharged the capital campaign” to build the workforce project, Emmerman said.

As a 2022 finalist for the Chicago Prize, the project also received a $500,000 grant from We Rise Together, a program created by the Chicago Community Trust in 2020, and is eligible for a donation match from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, Emmerman said. 

The site is “shovel ready” as the Xchange team continues to raise funding for the development. If all goes as planned, the center could open to welcome a new generation of tech leaders as soon as January 2025, Emmerman said.

“We view the Xchange model as a new way of doing business that creates more opportunities for diverse talent, wealth building, commercial growth and community impact on the South Side,” Emmerman said. “We’re a deserving community like every other one, and we think this is a winning formula to change the equation.”

Credit: Provided
A rendering of Xchange Grand Crossing at 7301 S. Chicago Ave.

For years, the Comer Education Campus has supported South Side youth as they traversed through school and extracurricular activities, Emmerman said. But what the campus needed was the opportunity to foster workforce development, she said. 

Youth who didn’t want to go to a two or four-year college were directed toward a career in the trades, Emmerman said. But for those who didn’t want either of the three, resources were limited, Emmerman said. 

“While many of our young people were succeeding in fantastic ways, many were not,” Emmerman said. “And many, despite doing what everybody told them to do and what everybody wanted them to do, weren’t thriving in a way that was landing living-wage careers that excited them.”

Credit: Provided
A rendering of Xchange Grand Crossing at 7301 S. Chicago Ave.

Amid the pandemic, the necessity for more resources on the South Side became apparent, Emmerman said. 

Time and time again, as the group researched the fastest-growing fields with the highest wages for youth entering the job market, “tech and tech-adjacent roles jumped off the plate,” Emmerman said. 

Plenty of people were doing tech equity work in the city, but communities on the South and West sides “weren’t necessarily a direct benefit” of that work, Emmerman said. 

When applications for the 2022 Chicago Prize opened, the Comer Education Campus and local stakeholders had an idea: What could a physical site that fostered opportunities in one of the fastest-growing fields mean for the community? 

“We said, ‘Let’s find people doing tech equity work, want to develop talent and have access to employers who have diverse talent and bring it all together on the South Side,’” Emmerman said. “The South Side is as deserving as every other community in Chicago. Not all the cool stuff needs to be in Fulton Market or the Loop.” 

Credit: Provided
A rendering of Xchange Grand Crossing at 7301 S. Chicago Ave.

The Sankofa Wellness Village in West Garfield Park would go on to win the $10 million Chicago Prize in January, but plans to build the Xchange Greater Grand Crossing have continued to receive momentum. 

P33, a collaboration between business and tech leaders in the city, is a partner in the Xchange, Emmerman said. 

Bitwise Industries will open a temporary space at Ring of Hope, 7427 S. Chicago Ave., in June, Emmerman said. Already, the company has employed about 20 people from the area in roles ranging from apprentice to engineer to vice president, Emmerman said. 

Xchange Grand Crossing is the “key nexus between exciting developments getting a lot of attention on the South Side,” Emmerman said. The Obama Presidential Center, Discover Customer Center, University of Chicago Medicine Cancer Care Center and Regal Mile Studios will all be a short drive away. 

Raising funds to bring the dream to fruition are critical next steps but Xchange Grand Crossing could be a “catalytic change on the South Side,” Emmerman said.

“My hope for the future is that we change the equation for our community and that the talent that exists in Grand Crossing and surrounding us on the South Side will be developed to a point where they can participate in the innovation economy of tomorrow,” Emmerman said.

“I hope that I look back in 10 years and I see that we trained and employed thousands of people at high-wage jobs right on the South Side that changes the face of the community and brings it back to what it once was.”

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