High up on former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brag sheet were corporate relocations and he helped to lure Motorola from Schaumburg, Kraft Heinz from Northfield and McDonald’s from Oak Brook, among many others.
That approach is officially over — at least on paper — thanks to a new regional economic development partnership announced Wednesday that includes a “no poaching” agreement and data sharing that participants across Cook and six collar counties hope will increase collaboration, attract new companies and encourage expansions.
Parties to the Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership — a three-year pilot housed at World Business Chicago — are public, private and civic entities fromCook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Will, McHenry and Kendall counties, plus the city of Chicago. It hopes to be the go-to economic development authority for the region.
The group signifies a “new era of regional cooperation … with the goal of facilitating activities that better take advantage of our shared opportunities and complement our unique interests,” according to the partnership’s website. Participants chipped in money to support the first year of the project, totaling $1 million.
[ Chicago lost some big corporate headquarters in 2022 ]
Such partnerships have popped up and failed before, stakeholders acknowledge. The Chicago Regional Growth Corporation, for example, was founded in late 2017 with similar partners, and appears defunct.
But “we feel very confident that this is the right structural setup,” World Business Chicago CEO Michael Fassnacht told the Tribune, describing the initiative as a single point of entry for companies to find out about what the region has to offer.
That structure was fine-tuned over the last several months in meetings with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Brookings Institution, Fassnacht said. “We didn’t build another bureaucratic entity with additional staff. … We are the largest organization already” and have resources to share.
He expects to hire five to seven people at WBC to help with the effort, and hopes that private industry will step up to help fund the partnership after seeing some measurable success in leads, expansions and relocations.
The new agreement is an outgrowth of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s COVID-19 recovery task force, which included a slew of regional recommendations: reimagining workforce infrastructure, increasing employment in contracting and construction for marginalized communities, and building on regional strengths in areas like transportation, distribution and logistics; life sciences; food and agriculture; and manufacturing.
CMAP had been calling for such a partnership for years. In a 2017 report, the agency noted the Chicago region lagged in economic recovery and growth compared to other metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. “Despite our economy’s metropolitan breadth, many approaches and tools to support economic development remain siloed to local jurisdictions, limiting the potential of strategies for broad economic growth,” the report said. Teaming up could help support industry clusters, pool data and resources and reach international audiences, CMAP said at the time.
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CMAP Executive Director Erin Aleman pointed out that people are already traveling across counties to get to work, and economic development strategies should acknowledge it. “Prior to the pandemic, about 60% of the region’s workforce crossed county boundaries to get to work, and with the large share of jobs in our region that can’t be done remotely, I think that’s going to continue to hold true.”
To capitalize on the growth of electric vehicles, for example, the partnership could play up the battery startups coming out of Argonne National Laboratory in DuPage County that are moving to Fulton Market in Chicago or to Will County.
And for companies looking to stay or expand, it’s a “competitive game changer” to draw workforce stats from a universe of all northeastern Illinois workers, rather than Chicago alone, says Kyle Schulz, World Business Chicago’s executive vice president of business development and global strategy. Pitching a regional workforce strategy “can connect to these different talent outlets,” he said.
The partnership won’t abandon the search for flashy corporate headquarters, but “it’s also about expansions, said Fassnacht. “We have to take care of the companies who are already in the region, make sure they stay there, reinvest, and expand across all our counties.”
World Business Chicago has already worked with Cook County to ensure that 4front Ventures, a cannabis cultivation business with offices in downtown Chicago and stores in southeast Chicago and Calumet City, didn’t leave the region after trouble finding a cultivation facility site, Schulz said. The company had looked for a location in Chicago to build a 500,000-square-foot facility for 15 months, he said. WBC started working with the county’s Bureau of Economic Development to find it a space in Matteson instead.
Choose DuPage’s Greg Bedalov gave examples of how the partnership could work. “When a company calls Kyle and says we’re doing a corporate headquarter (relocation) from Ohio to Chicago, and Kyle says, ‘What are you doing for distribution?’ he’ll pick up the phone and call me and we’ll land a 40,000-square-foot distribution deal in DuPage,” he said. “Or when we have an engineering firm working with us on an EV build in Will County and the engineering firm needs office space,” he could suggest Chicago.
In past years, “it would have been, ‘We’re going to shoehorn you in this location, and if Cook wants to go after you for distribution, let Cook worry about that,’” Bedalov said. “I envision this group saying, here’s all of the assets within this region that will help your business grow, whether it’s national laboratories … life sciences, an unbelievable transportation distribution and logistics opportunity … I could list a million things.”
The partnership will focus on promoting the region’s “extensive freight infrastructure, diverse talent and world-class institutions of innovation, research and culture to develop a competitive global identity,” according to its website.
“The old days of poaching one company from one to another, just like moving it one mile, we realized, is a negative game. It doesn’t help the region,” Fassnacht said.