Although Chicago’s bid to become the site of Amazon’s second headquarters (“HQ2”) didn’t win, the tech giant inspired Chicago leaders to build more than a landing spot for one company; leaders are now on a quest to build a landing spot for the most innovative technology companies in the world.
The leadership committee that the city assembled for the Amazon bid included many of the same leaders who are at the helm of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club’s P33 initiative, which endeavors to make Chicago a top global innovation hub by 2033. These leaders — who include former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, repeat entrepreneur Chris Gladwin (whose company Cleversafe was acquired by IBM for $1.3B), and former General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Commerce Kelly Welsh — are strategizing how to collectively apply their respective expertise and success for the greater good of the community. If successful, their strategy will lift all boats — including their own — in the end.
What’s unique about P33’s leadership is that these individuals are intimately familiar with the Amazon bid — and loss. This gives them an advantage in setting up P33 for success. They can take what they learned about Chicago’s challenges, create a plan to overcome those challenges, and then leverage their leadership and positions of power to galvanize the city around stronger programs and policies that will make Chicago a global hub that both retains and attracts the world’s best people and companies. But they cannot achieve this alone, and P33’s leaders know it.
They have assembled an expert team to help engage all of the key stakeholders that are necessary in order for an undertaking of this magnitude to achieve a successful outcome. The team includes nation-leading academics, top venture capitalists (myself included), industry experts from the private sector, policymakers, and top technological talent.
These are the people behind some of Chicago’s most successful (or equally-promising) initiatives and programs. This expert group now has the opportunity to collaborate with each other, to identify both synergies and challenges across the initiative, and to use those findings to accelerate Chicago’s innovation in a way that is inclusive, equitable, and creates a strong and thriving technological ecosystem.
While becoming a global technology hub by 2033 is an aggressive goal, the people of Chicago have every reason to believe that it’s doable. Not only does the city have leadership that can guide the initiative toward success; the city already has a strong foundation to build on.
Last year, Chicago saw the most corporate expansion and relocation projects in the country. The city is second in the nation for number of undergraduate computer science degrees. It’s home to the country’s third-largest collection of Fortune 500 companies. At $651 billion, the city has the fourth-highest gross regional product in the nation. And notably, Chicago’s startup growth rate is the fifth-highest in the nation.
It’s not enough to have a strong foundation to facilitate growth, however. In order to feel confident in what’s possible for the city’s future, the people of Chicago should also want to see past and present success among those who are leading the P33 charge. The good news is that they can. These individuals are already helping to put Chicago on a global stage and realize the city’s full potential.
Earlier this year, the city — with help from P33 co-chairs— began a collaboration with Elon Musk’s Boring Company to build a high-speed transit tunnel between O’Hare International Airport and downtown Chicago. The goal is to help people affordably get from the most-connected airport in the country to the city’s economic heartbeat in 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s universities are bridging the gaps between academia and industry in order to catalyze entrepreneurship. For example, the University of Illinois launched its Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) last year. The vision of DPI is to bring together thousands of academics, industry experts, and students to foster a multidisciplinary innovation hub that solves large-scale problems across the globe. The potential this has — for creating entrepreneurs, connecting them to established corporations, and both attracting and retaining the nation’s top talent — is enormous.
In the midst of all of this collaboration and innovation in Chicago is a changing of the governmental guard that has the opportunity to support the P33 initiative at the highest level. A notable community builder and supporter of entrepreneurs, Governor-elect JB Pritzker was instrumental in the launch and support of 1871, which in just a few years earned the ranking of the number one business incubatorin the world. Pritzker understands the importance of supporting bold innovation initiatives. He and the future mayor of Chicago have the unique opportunity to build on what Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already done to move the city to a place where innovation and technological leadership can thrive.
Finally, when considering the potential for P33’s success, it’s worth noting that Chicago has a history of undertaking enormous projects and executing them. In fact, P33 it is not the first time the Chicago Civic Committee itself has collaborated to make the city a beacon of global innovation. P33 gets its namesake from the 1933 World’s Fair, when the city earned the title of “World’s Brightest Spot.” Leading up to that accomplishment in the early 1900s was a Civic Committee collaboration called the Burnham Plan, which sought to make Chicago a beautiful place to live and work and to improve its viability as a hub of commerce.
So while Amazon HQ2 would have been an exciting win for Chicago, Chicago is nothing if not resilient. Unique among all of the Amazon HQ2 location hopefuls, Chicago’s leaders are already working together to arrive at an even bigger solution. If this leadership takes advantage of the opportunity, rises to the occasion, and collaborates effectively for the greater good of our ecosystem, Chicago will be positioned for far greater success than Amazon alone could have ever ushered in.
Originally featured in Forbes.