Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Evanston leaders hail new safety science company UL headquarters amid downtown office struggles

Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
UL officials lead a tour Tuesday of its safety testing and research firms’ new headquarters at Orrington Plaza in downtown Evanston.

Two organizations of the UL safety testing enterprise welcomed about 200 workers to their new headquarters in downtown Evanston this month as the city’s central business district continues to grapple with rising office vacancies.

Leaders from UL Research Institutes and UL Standards & Engagement celebrated the move from a suburban office park in Northbrook at a private reception Tuesday that Mayor Daniel Biss and councilmembers attended.

“It’s transformational for the economy of downtown Evanston as we continue to understand what a successful post-COVID equilibrium in this community looks like,” Biss told the dozens of attendees, mostly UL officials and city staff.

UL Research Institutes studies technology and public safety, while UL Standards & Engagement sets product safety requirements. The two firms now occupy the top four floors of the Orrington Plaza tower downtown. 

Collaborative meeting spaces, an open cafe and wrap-around views of Lake Michigan highlight their new headquarters. UL officials credited downtown Evanston’s transportation connections, retail and dining as prime reasons for choosing the city for its new headquarters.

“A lot of those pointed to Evanston, which has better prices than downtown Chicago but still attractive to the people we want to bring in and work for us because we’re still growing,” said Christopher Cramer, UL Research Institutes’ senior vice president and chief research officer.

Business districts across the U.S. continue to see the impact of working from home, with city officials warning the office vacancy rate could balloon past its current value of just more than 12%. UL has a hybrid work schedule, requiring its employees to report to the new Evanston headquarters only a couple days a week.

“Are we in a permanent state of work from home? I think the answer is yes,” Evanston Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said. “We’re flattening out in terms of Evanston office workers. What we see right now is probably what we get.”

UL’s new headquarters could a “stabilizing force” for downtown as properties retrofit and transform their office space, sometimes into other uses, Zalmezak added. 

Many UL officials said they’ve already explored downtown cafes and businesses.

“This is a huge shot in the arm for downtown Evanston,” City Manager Luke Stowe said. “This is going to be a great boost for our local businesses, especially our restaurants.”

Officials from the two firms said they look forward to working with local organizations and benefiting the city. UL will also credit hours to employees who volunteer in Evanston, Vice President of Strategy John Canfield said.

“I see community members who are committed and have the passion for what comes next,” said Charlotte Farmer, UL Research Institutes’ chief operating officer. “They’re visionary. The programs that I’m observing help community members live into the vision. You don’t always see that in a community. That’s what’s exciting about Evanston.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the position of John Canfield. The Daily regrets the error.

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