(Bloomberg) — Chicago and its suburbs are taking new steps to lure companies to the region after high-profile corporate departures rocked the city last year.
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Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and other county leaders announced a plan to promote the region over the next three years, and to commit $1 million in 2023. The marketing campaign will promote Chicago and its metropolitan area’s extensive rail connections, diverse talent and world-class research institutions to boost the region’s competitiveness.
The move comes after Chicago and its suburbs were dealt a blow last year by the departure of large corporations including hedge fund Citadel, plane maker Boeing Co. and machinery giant Caterpillar Inc. The commitment may also help Lightfoot as she seeks closer ties with the businesses ahead of her re-election bid next month.
“Business leaders who make expansion or relocation decisions for their corporations are not thinking about artificial city or county limits, they are considering economic strength, the talent pool and the quality of life of a whole region,” Michael Fassnacht, the city’s chief marketing officer and head of World Business Chicago, said at a press conference Wednesday. “We want companies from England, Israel, all over the world coming here and investing.”
Like other major US cities, Chicago is grappling with rising crime in the wake of the global pandemic. McDonald’s Corp. Chief Executive Officer Chris Kempczinski said last year that the increase in violence was making it harder to lure executives to the Windy City. Still, Chicago says 159 companies expanded, relocated or moved to the city last year.
The partnership will target another 150 company expansions or relocations over the next three years. It will also involve expanding World Business Chicago’s innovation and venture programming by hosting 20% of the area’s events outside the city. It also puts an end to the competition within the region, with Chicago in the past working to lure companies from the suburbs to the city.
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted his achievement of luring McDonald’s back to the city, while Mondelez International Inc., the maker of Oreo cookies, moved to Chicago from Deerfield during Lightfoot’s term.
In the past, Chicago would be proud to announce that “a company that was headquartered in DuPage County is now in the city of Chicago,” Preckwinkle said in an interview. “Well, that’s not expanding the pie, that’s just moving pieces around the checkerboard. The whole idea is we’ve got to work together to expand the pie.”
Leaders in Chicago as well as Cook, Lake, DuPage, Will, McHenry, Kane and Kendall counties are looking to strengthen the region’s economic power in a increasingly competitive market. Cities like Miami, Dallas and Austin have been luring companies south with tax advantages and plentiful sunshine, while Chicago also competes with neighboring states and the West Coast for businesses.
“We are finally beginning to speak with one voice,” Mark Hamilton, a partner with commercial real estate developer Hamilton Partners, said in an interview. “This will help us compete locally against Wisconsin and Indiana, which have been formidable competitors” as well as the west coast as the region seeks to attract tech companies.
“We have such a vibrant tech sector here and a much lower cost of doing business,” he said.
Erin Aleman, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which set in motion work on the partnership two years ago, said the agreement should bring “good jobs” with salaries that can support a family in areas including manufacturing, life sciences as well as food and agriculture.
Lightfoot touted the success of 4Front Ventures announcement to build a 550,000 square feet cannabis cultivation center in Cook County. The operation created over 500 “good paying” jobs for the area.
“This is the type of success that the partnership will try to replicate and scale up over and over again during this three year commitment,” she said.
Jim Reynolds, founder of Loop Capital, said he had been pushing for this initiative for over a decade.
“I just couldn’t understand why the passion for our region stopped at the boarders of Chicago,” he said.
(Adds timeframe of financial backing in second paragraph, updates with Loop Capital quote.)
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