Over the last 20 years, John Hudson has been an ardent champion in helping to transform communities with groundbreaking philanthropic initiatives. From serving as chief executive of philanthropic arms of Alabama Power Company and Southern Company Gas, supporting core programming for national educational institutions such as Morehouse College, to starting Bronze Valley, a nonprofit investment platform and community development financial institution that supports early-stage technology companies created by diverse founders, Hudson has focused on advancing the communities where he lives and works.
Recently as president and CEO of Nicor Gas, he has spearheaded the development of Northern Illinois Community Initiatives (NICI), a nonprofit that invests in communities that lack resources to launch or complete critical neighborhood revitalization initiatives. Focused on Illinois towns outside of the city of Chicago, NICI is committed to providing support to some of the area’s so-called “forgotten cities” to build economies of scale. Leveraging his previous successes in forming past coalitions with businesses, governments, and community leaders in other areas of the country, Hudson is advocating for more investment in infrastructure, technology, and transportation for economically vulnerable communities.
At the helm of Nicor Gas, Hudson is responsible for the delivery of clean, safe, reliable, and affordable natural gas to 2.2 million homes and businesses in more than 650 northern Illinois communities. Based on previous community endeavors, he wanted to strengthen support for areas that were in economic distress before the pandemic. With the launch of NICI, the organization will work to support beyond funding; NICI will increase awareness, advocacy and collaboration with trusted partners who share Nicor Gas’ and Hudson’s commitment to community advancement.
Nicor Gas and Southern Company Gas are funding the work of NICI with $20 million in seed money and a $250,000 Impact Grant to spur economic development and advocacy in these areas.
Q: What is the biggest focus for NICI?
A: NICI is focused on helping our most economically-challenged communities regain their strength. For a variety of different reasons, many of our affected areas are shadows of once-thriving communities. Our organization wants to help them launch new chapters to focus on regaining their economic stability. We focus on four key areas: financial assistance, community investment, collaborations, and advocacy. Each of these areas has the power to help us successfully identify and implement key community initiatives. Beyond providing financial assistance, NICI will align local leaders and community groups to form partnerships and mobilize resources. The organization will collaborate with residents, local leaders, and influencers to not only prioritize communities that are most in need, but also identify projects that will benefit from bridge funding or a brain trust. NICI will support a variety of entrepreneurship initiatives in an effort to create a culture of innovation in communities challenged by economic hardship.
We strive to make strategic investments in commercial and business growth that have the potential to change people’s lives and environments. High-impact initiatives will yield growth-enabling infrastructure like technology and transportation; commercial corridor redevelopment, agriculture, and manufacturing collaboratives; entrepreneurship support and venture capital investment in local businesses. Wealth building, workforce development and job readiness training will also help prepare people for gainful employment.
Q: What communities is NICI primarily focused on and how were they selected?
A: When you drive through a town like Harvey, Illinois, with shuttered factories and boarded-up homes, you see remnants of what once was. But if you look closer, you will see what can be once again. We founded NICI to invest in communities hardest hit by deindustrialization, systemic and environmental racism and other mitigating factors that affect job creation, wealth building, healthcare, and education. These inequalities have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and bolder, more forward-looking economic development strategies are critical to help communities like Harvey revitalize their towns.
Across northern Illinois, there are several under-resourced communities that have experienced disparate economic impacts before and, of course, during the pandemic. Many of these communities were built on solid foundations and at one time attracted industries that provided middle-income jobs. Now, residents are living in food deserts, consigned to shop in convenience stores lacking fresh produce and quality proteins, and they are living in neighborhoods where half the homes are uninhabitable. So, in addition to investing in commercial projects, NICI will form partnerships with local economic development agencies, grassroots community groups and collaboratives to support residents’ basic needs.