By Tom Butala
Humboldt Park-based transportation seating manufacturer Freedman Seating Company is set to receive $10 million from an Illinois Finance Authority bond sale that closed Thursday. IFA Executive Director Chris Meister described the measure as an attempt to help revitalize Chicago’s manufacturing industry.
Located at 4545 and 4501 W. Augusta Blvd., the century-old, family-owned company manufactures seating for buses, trains and other vehicles. Freedman’s clients include the Chicago Transit Authority, according to its website. Meister said the location was previously home to Motorola in the early 20th century and Playskool in the 1980s.
“[The plant] was a poster child for manufacturing jobs leaving the city, leaving the state, leaving the Midwest; disinvestment in the West Side,” he said. “The Freedmans bought this [property] out of bankruptcy and now they’re investing in it.”
Proceeds from the bond sale will help Freedman finance renovations at 4501 W. Augusta. Those renovations will include the construction of a research and development facility, company President Craig Freedman explained on Thursday. Freedman will also use proceeds from the bond sale to purchase of new equipment.
The company’s investments are projected to create 30 new jobs and 50 temporary construction jobs, according to the agenda of Monday ‘s IFA board meeting, during which the measure received final approval. Freedman currently employs 622 people.
In August 2012, the company received a $7 million loan from the IFA. Freedman Seating at the time already owned space at 4545 W. Augusta, and Craig Freedman said the loan helped the company acquire its property at 4501 W. Augusta. Monday’s IFA agenda stated the company has increased production by 400 percent since 1999, when it relocated to its current campus from a location in Ravenswood.
The $10 million bond sale the IFA approved for Freedman is the maximum allowed under federal law, which prevents any company from holding more than $10 million in outstanding manufacturing bond debt.
That limit is something that U.S. Reps. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) and Richard Neal (D-Ill.) hope to change. In August the pair sponsored the Modernizing American Manufacturing Bonds Act, a measure that would elevate to $30 million the ceiling for manufacturing bonds. Hultgren said the change would foster additional growth in the American manufacturing industry.
“Our legislation would recognize that manufacturing-bond limits were set decades ago and it’s time for an update of this [policy] to recognize a new responsible level so we can encourage greater growth of manufacturing jobs and opportunities,” he told the Daily Whale. “It’s really about modernizing the manufacturing bond market.”
Meister on Thursday said Hultgren’s legislation will help grow the manufacturing sector in Chicago and throughout Illinois.
“What we’re really trying to do is push [this issue] to the top of the D.C. legislative agenda,” he said. “Hultgren really gets this stuff and is trying to help American manufacturing, and this is a really great way to do that. He understands that this is a tool.”