Discover Financial Services call center opens in former Target store in Chatham
Retiring U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who led protests after the Target closing was announced, had the gleeful final word at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the call center.
When Target decided in October 2018 to close two of its five South Side stores — in Chatham and Morgan Park — U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush led protest marches. He even met with Target executives in a failed attempt to reverse the devastating announcement.
On Monday, the retiring congressman had the gleeful final word at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Discover Financial Services call center now located in the shuttered Chatham Target at 86th and Cottage Grove. The center includes a 13,000-square-foot Shine Bright 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.
“I stand here now — and I’m gonna call them out. Target, good riddance. See ya and don’t want to be ya. Bye-bye. So long. Adios. We don’t want you. We don’t need you. And we’re tired of what [you did to] our community,” Rush said.
“We want a place where we not only spend money. We want a place where we earn money. And so we’ve got now a place here where we can earn money. Build our lives. Build our families. Build our community. Build everything that this nation has promised us.”
Rush thanked Discover Financial Services for “believing in us” and for “bringing your resources” to Chatham.
“Let this be a model for other corporations around the state and around the nation: Come to the South Side because the South Side and its people are South Side strong,” Rush said.
Discover President and CEO Roger Hochschild said the call center started in 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 a five-mile radius of the facility.
“This center started in 2019 with the idea that large companies need to challenge traditional ways of doing business in order to be part of overcoming centuries of bias … and with the belief that all of Chicago’s residents deserve the opportunity to work 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,” Hochschild said.
Hochschild said he’s been “lucky enough to spend time with a few of the new hire classes” coming through the new center. Inevitably, one of the newbies asks how he or she can “grow in my career” at the company “so I can be CEO.”
“That’s a real testament to the drive and ambition of the people we are hiring. And I tell them that it’s my hope that a future CEO of Discover has already joined us here at the Chatham location, and I am certain that many of Discover’s future leaders will come from the South Side of Chicago,” Hochschild said.
“Investing in the South Side is not just the right thing to do. It’s good business.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot agreed.
“Take that challenge to the rest of the business community,” she urged.
“Investing in neighborhoods on the South and West side that have historically been disinvested in — it’s not charity. It’s good business,” the mayor said.
“What we’re doing today is proving that investing in our neighborhoods strengthens our entire city.”
Lightfoot described the March 2021 announcement of the Discover call center as “one of the most memorable moments” of her time in office. She still “feels emotional” recalling it.
“What I said then remains true: This customer care center will undoubtedly serve as a socioeconomic catalyst for the entire Chatham community and the surrounding area,” the mayor said.
“You could have done it anywhere in the world. But you chose Chicago, and you chose the South Side, and you chose a meaningful place that had been, frankly, a source of pain for this community when the [former] occupant … pulled out. Now you’ve replaced that pain with real joy, with real economic opportunity.”
Lightfoot noted call center employees are offered the opportunity for a free college education, including a new partnership with Chicago State University.
“Very few companies offer those kinds of benefits to their employees,” she said.
Local Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), who is giving up his City Council seat 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 on the promise the community would “figure it 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.”