Late last week, Discover Financial Services announced that it would be opening a new call center in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood. The move is a significant one for numerous reasons, but at the heart of the decision is one that centers around equity and opportunity for historically underserved communities.
The property itself — a former Target location which closed in 2018 and has remained vacant ever since — is a glaring example of such inequity. However, the 100,000-square-foot facility will undergo a renovation led by developer DL3 Realty and global architecture firm Gensler and become a hub employing upwards of 1,000 workers when completed.
Discover leaders have pledged to focus hiring nearby residents for the new customer service center, which will be at 86th Street and Cottage Grove. We reached out to the team working on the development to understand the decision making process and what it means for the Riverwoods-based corporation.
Below are responses from Matthew Towson, director of community affairs at Discover.
- How big of a role was Mayor Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West initiative in the decision to locate in Chatham? Otherwise, what were some other major variables that went into choosing this location?
- Discover was drawn to Chatham because of its longstanding sense of community, passionate people, dedicated businesses and the unwavering commitment of community leaders contributing to the economic revitalization of Chatham and having the chance to be a part of it. Discover recognizes how corporate site selection has contributed to unequal opportunity in our society and Discover wants to be a part of the solution by bringing jobs to communities where they’re needed most – especially in our hometown. We chose the location for our new site to help contribute to this city’s vitality through jobs that provide economic opportunity for all residents and by supporting community partners. We’re excited to get to work with area residents and community leaders to build an award-winning customer service team here.
- Will the company/developer seek any tax incentives for the site build-out?
- Discover’s decision to open a new customer care center in Chatham was not based on tax incentives. Rather, we are opening a center in Chatham because of the neighborhood’s longstanding sense of community, dedicated businesses and passionate people. With the help of the facility landlord and the support of elected officials, we have applied for a local property tax incentive with the county that is currently pending. We have not received any tax incentives from the state of Illinois.
- How does Discover see the pandemic playing into the plans — will there be any special systems in place for health and safety?
- Our intent is to open a state of the art facility that ensures the health and safety of our employees. This remains Discover’s top priority and all designs for the new office follow protocols established by the Illinois Department of Health. We’re also taking many on-site precautions, in alignment with local and state public health guidelines, to ensure our staff are safe. Including: temperature checks for all individuals at the door, socially distanced workspaces and mask requirements. While we hope the pandemic will subside in the latter half of 2021, we are also prepared, and have processes in place, to offer a work from home option to further protect employee well-being.
- Could we expect to see other investments like this from Discover in other parts of the Chicago area in the near future?
- Our intent is to not only be a good employer, but also a good neighbor to South Side communities. As of now, we’re focused on being active participants in the community that the majority of our Chatham Customer Care Center employees will call home to help contribute to brighter financial futures for all residents.