Ellen Shepard

CEO, Community Allies

Chicago, IL

Act Local First, Co-Create Policy  |  Community Economic Development, Consultant

Ellen helps communities build wealth and resilience through community engagement and thriving commercial districts with a joyful sense of place.

Ellen is the CEO of Community Allies, which goes into communities and helps create strategies for building unique, vital business districts and strong local economies. Community Allies works alongside non-profits, social enterprises, and community leaders to support and amplify their efforts. Community Allies also provides organizational development and leadership coaching to non-profits and social enterprises in order to deepen their impact. Ellen is a seasoned strategist, leveraging localized economic development, community engagement, environmental sustainability, and strong community support organizations to build thriving commercial districts. Ellen is also a skilled facilitator, trained in Transformational Leadership and Art of Hosting techniques to convene critical group conversations and turn the results into actionable plans.

For sixteen years, Ellen was executive director of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce and Andersonville Development Corporation in Chicago. Under Ellen’s leadership, Andersonville became one of the foremost communities in the United States using localization and environmental sustainability as economic development strategies. During her tenure, the Andersonville neighborhood gained national acclaim for its thriving business district and its use of economic localization, place-making, and environmental sustainability as economic development strategies. In 2015, Redfin named Andersonville the #7 hottest neighborhood in the country.

As a past BALLE board member and Fellow, Ellen occupies a unique niche of working on the ground in economic development as well as collaborating with regional and national thought leaders on economic policy issues. Prior to Andersonville, Ellen was a PR and marketing consultant for organizations including the Chicago Department of Housing and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. Her experience with small businesses began at the League of Chicago Theatres, where she provided technical assistance to arts organizations. She spent a decade before that as a stage manager and technician on assorted Chicago stages. She has an MA in Urban Studies from Loyola University.


  • Andersonville retains an astounding 93% rate of local ownership of business and a vacancy rate that hovers around a low 6%. 94% of local patrons say local ownership of businesses is important when deciding whether to shop in Andersonville. The 2004 “Andersonville Study of Retail Economics” and subsequent research provided proof points for the benefits of local ownership to local landlords and developers.
  • Funds 75% (up to $1000) of the costs for eligible green improvement project through the Andersonville Green Building Incentive program, which helped six businesses go green and save money through an assortment of energy retrofits and other sustainability improvements. One business saved over $25,000 in energy savings in their first year after participating in the program.
  • 30,000 visitors attend Andersonville’s annual Midsommerfest, bringing people to the neighborhood’s commercial district, paying homage to the area’s Swedish roots, and raising money for the organizations’ programs.
  • Created Chicago’s first “parklet,” to add green space to their park-less neighborhood, sparking a city-wide effort to create similar small parks.
  • 2,000 visitors attend the Andersonville Farmers Market each week, Chicago’s first evening market, which also connects local farmers with neighborhood restaurants.