When Amazon began searching for a home for a second headquarters with 50,000 jobs, it visited five locations in Chicago, including the planned 80-acre Lincoln Yards development on the North Side.
Amazon is expected to announce its choice among 20 cities in late September, while announcements of other tech companies expanding or moving to Chicago are expected in coming weeks. Chicago, unlike Silicon Valley, isn’t corralling those tech firms into a dedicated district. Instead, the city nurtures tech hubs in different neighborhoods, including the Fulton-Randolph Market District, River North, downtown and elsewhere. These areas are now home to startups, incubators and accelerators, all eager to be next to Google, Gogo, Motorola Mobility, GrubHub or Groupon.
Spreading those tech companies throughout the city, which watched its tech image rise in global ratings, is like building communities within communities. It’s also strengthening a company-community partnership that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel started when he launched a citywide technology strategy in 2013, a year after he helped to create ChicagoNEXT, an organization to promote Chicago’s technology industry to the world. The goal was to attract more tech companies, workers and venture capital; improve the city’s own IT infrastructure and STEM education; and nurture an ecosystem that supports talent and encourages it to stay, instead of being recruited elsewhere.
“There’s a strong work ethic in the Midwest that you will not find anywhere else,” Emanuel says. “It cannot be replicated or bottled, and it’s a dedication that they don’t have on either coast.”
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