Chicago may be known for our manufacturing, finance and publishing businesses, but over the last few years there has been a surge of new startups and established tech companies calling our great city home. Why are these companies flocking to Chicago? During The Executive’s Club’s March 5 panel, “Windy City: The New Tech Hub,” we explored the major benefits — and a few drawbacks — that Chicago offers, with featured leaders from Google, LinkedIn Talent Solutions and Uber Freight.
Here, five reasons tech companies are putting down roots in Chicago.
1. Chicago is home to unique opportunities found nowhere else
There really is no place like Chicago, and that is certainly true when it comes to our blend of academic, government and business opportunities. Centrally located, we have two major international airports, a wide range of industries, investment opportunities, McCormick Place, arts and culture, unique real estate opportunities, and our residents love to give back. Despite many tech companies historically choosing the West Coast as their home, Chicago’s opportunities are proving to be a major draw. “Traditional tech is investing here now,” said Ted Buell, Director of Analytics, Retail & Technology for Google, who recently set up a Chicago HQ in the West Loop.
2. We are a pilot city
Unlike other cities, Chicago is a fresh testing ground for new opportunities. Groupon launched here in November 2008 and paved the way for other startups to do the same. We also have less competition, so when a venture really takes off, it can control the market here. Sagar Shah, Director of Carrier Operations for Uber Freight, explained that they set up base in Chicago’s South Loop in 2017 for the central location and because the “competition for tech talent was less” here than in other cities.
3. We have top-notch talent
Chicago is home to several major universities and has famed engineering programs. Normally new graduates flock to the coasts for opportunities, but Chicago is working on bringing our talent back in — and staying put. “We have to get the word out to the next generation and sell the story of Chicago,” said David Cohen, Vice President, North America for LinkedIn Talent Solutions. Tech companies, and their large West Loop, River North and Fulton Market footprints, are helping relay this message.
4. The city is rife with opportunities for collaboration
Not only is our talent diverse, but the opportunities to collaborate with a wide range of industries is a huge draw for big tech in Chicago. Companies like McDonald’s, Allstate, Walgreens and United Airlines are all based here. So are investment firms, which startups will need in order to make an impact in the market.
5. We are a bargain… for now
“Chicago is emerging as a tech hub — but it’s not there yet,” said Cohen. Because of this, we are still a bit of a bargain for talent and opportunities, which is of course a draw for companies looking to escape Silicon Valley or East Coast prices. But as the landscape becomes more competitive, and Chicago becomes known as more of a globally recognized hub for tech, this will balance out.
Watch the full discussion below:
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Macaire Douglas lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and two sons, and covers the Weekend 101 and monthly Recommended Events features. She proudly supports Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that works tirelessly to prevent the illegal abandonment of newborns nationwide. Since its inception in 2000, more than 3,600 newborns have been safely surrendered and adopted into loving homes.