When Target decided in October 2018 to close two of its five South Side stores — in Chatham and Morgan Park — U.S. Representative Bobby Rush held protest marches. He even met with Target executives in an unsuccessful attempt to reverse the devastating announcement.
On Monday, the incumbent congressman had the last joyous laugh at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Discover Financial Services call center now located in Chatham’s gated target at 86th and Cottage Grove. The center includes a 13,000 square foot ShineBright Community Center.
Rush didn’t quite thumb his nose at Target for turning the once-thriving store into a symbol of disinvestment and despair for Chicago’s African-American community.
But he might as well have been.
“I stand here now – and I will call them. Target, good riddance. I see you and I don’t want to be you. Bye Bye. So long. Farewell. We don’t want you. We don’t need you. And what are we tired of [you did to] our community,” Rush said.
“We want a place where we don’t just spend money. We want a place where we make money. And so now we have a place here where we can make money. Let’s build our lives. Let’s build our families. Let’s build our community. Build everything this nation has promised us.
From the bottom of his heart, Rush thanked Discover Financial Services for “believing in us” and for “bringing your resources” to Chatham.
“Let this be a model for other businesses across the state and nation: Come to the South Side because the South Side and its people are strong,” Rush said.
Discover President and CEO Roger Hochschild said the call center started in a temporary space with just 20 employees. It has since grown to 300 workers and will reach 1,000 by 2024 “with almost 90%” of those employees living within five miles of the facility.
“This center began in 2019 with the idea that great corporations need to challenge traditional ways of doing business in order to help overcome centuries of prejudice…and with the belief that all Chicago residents deserve the opportunity to working in good jobs with good benefits in their community because working closer to home means they can spend more time with their families, be more active in their communities, and support local restaurants and businesses,” said said Hochschild.
Hochschild said he had been “lucky enough to hang out with some of the newer classes of recruits” coming through the new center. Inevitably, one of the starters asks how he can “grow in my career” within the company “so that I can be CEO”.
“It’s a real testament to the drive and ambition of the people we hire. And I tell them that I hope a future Discover CEO has already joined us here at the Chatham site, and I’m sure many future Discover CEOs will come from the South Side of Chicago,” Hochschild said.
“Investing in the South Side isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s a good thing.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot agreed.
“Take this challenge to the rest of the business community,” she urged.
“Investing in southern and western neighborhoods that have historically been divested – that’s not charity. It’s a good deal,” the mayor said.
“What we’re doing today is proving that investing in our neighborhoods makes our whole city stronger.
Lightfoot described the March 2021 announcement of the Discover call center as “one of the most memorable moments” of his tenure. She “always feels moved” remembering it.
“What I said then remains true: this customer service center will undoubtedly serve as a socio-economic catalyst for the entire community of Chatham and the surrounding area,” said the mayor.
“You could have done it anywhere in the world. But you picked Chicago, and you picked the South Side, and you picked a meaningful place that had been, frankly, a source of pain for that community when the [former] occupying… out. Now you have replaced that pain with real joy, with real economic opportunity.
Lightfoot noted that call center employees have the opportunity to take free college training, including a new partnership with Chicago State University.
“Very few companies offer these kinds of benefits to their employees,” she said.
Local alde. Sixth-placed Roderick Sawyer, who is giving up his seat on city council to run for mayor, noted that Chatham residents were “devastated” when Target pulled out.
But they appealed to developer Leon Walker to acquire the property promising the community would ‘find out’ and find a tenant.
As a result, Sawyer said, “What a lot of people don’t know is that when Discover pays their rent every month, they pay it to a black man.”