Congratulations to Manteno-based Urban Farmer and its founding partner Warren Ouwenga.
The company is being honored by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Economic Development Association for the role it played in 2018 in developing jobs and bringing prosperity to Illinois communities. The producer of gluten-free frozen pizzas, Urban Farmer has been based in Manteno since 2013. The company purchased a second site in Manteno last year, and its workforce and business continues to expand.
“We are extremely honored,” Ouwenga said. “This is quite an accomplishment. … We are playing in a sandbox with some really big players of grocery products. This speaks well for the future of Kankakee County.”
The honor for Urban Farmer marks back-to-back years a Kankakee County manufacturer has received the Economic Development in Illinois award. In 2018, CSL Behring received the award. Both CSL and Urban Farmer were nominated by Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County. Nugent said he wasn’t surprised by the Illinois chamber’s selection.
“Urban Farmer has done such a great job. They are well deserving of this honor,” he said. “This is just another positive example of what is happening here in Kankakee County.”
The Illinois chamber recognizes two companies for the honor. One is for a company in the Chicago metropolitan area (Cook, DuPage, DeKalb, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties) and the second is for the remainder of the state. The metro award went to Hart Schaffner Marx, a manufacturer of men’s suits. The awards, known as the Edies, show two companies who have made commitments to expanding business in Illinois. In 2018, Urban Farmer completed a $4 million expansion of its business by purchasing the neighboring 110,000-square-foot Merisant Company plant, a site which had been closed.
Products produced by Urban Farmer can be found in stores across the country. Its products are on shelves in Jewel, Kroger, Berkot’s, Mariano’s, Mejier, Walmart and Cosco. The company was the recipient of the Daily Journal’s 2019 Innovator in Manufacturing Award Progress Award. The pizza innovator began here in 2013. As recently as 2017, the company had 50 employees. Today, its workforce is at 400. John Keigher, Urban Farmers’ director of administration, said the state award is flattering.
“We are one of the best-kept secrets in Kankakee County. We are very proud of what we have done here,” he said. Ouwenga said most people don’t know of Urban Farmer because the vast majority of its product is distributed outside of Illinois. “We just aren’t as visible here. We are a national company,” he said.
The company will received its award on Sept. 26 during the chamber’s 11th annual Economic Development in Illinois Awards program in Chicago. Ouwenga said while Urban Farmer is in business to make money, that is not the company’s only priority.
“We treat people correctly. We deal with people honestly and with integrity. I’ve found people like to be involved in business like that,” he said. Keigher added: “We don’t want to be a factory. We want to build a family. We want to build a culture in which people can be proud to work for.”