'Unprecedented opportunity': Chicago, suburbs team up for 7-county economic partnership
Leaders from throughout the seven-county Chicago area gathered Wednesday to announce the creation of a Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership through which they pledged to work together to attract businesses and promote the regional economy.
The participants -- Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, along with Chicago -- already have contributed a combined $1 million to fund the first year of the planned three-year pilot program. Its aim is to create a seven-county economic ecosystem, provide ongoing research, pursue federal grant opportunities and seek out international investment.
"By leveraging and promoting the power of this region with all of our combined assets, we can strengthen our position in a fierce global competitive marketplace," said Erin Aleman, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. The Chicago-based organization is assisting with the partnership.
The partnership agreement features a code of professional conduct that prevents members from soliciting businesses from other participants' jurisdictions, or disparaging those communities when a business considers relocation. The agreement also calls for the participants to share information and produce 150 "pro-Chicagoland" decisions.
Other goals include generating 500 shared new investment opportunities, expanding World Business Chicago Innovation + Venture programming to the entire region by hosting 20% of its events outside the city, developing a regional pitchbook for five key sectors, and providing ongoing research and data support.
Michael Fassnacht, president and CEO of World Business Chicago, said that after 23 years, the city's public‑private economic development agency is becoming a regional operation. The region's gross domestic product is not only the third-largest in the nation, but the size of some nations', including Sweden and Poland, he added.
Political and private sector representatives including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and DuPage County Board Chair Deb Conroy addressed the mutual benefits of the unprecedented alliance during Wednesday's announcement.
By getting investors to view the region as a whole, it has a better chance of landing valuable projects for the good of all, Conroy said.
"Together we put real skin in the game, signaling our commitment to a collaborative approach," she said. "The advantage to the collar counties is clear. The Greater Chicagoland Economic Partnership represents an unprecedented opportunity for a level playing field among all partners."
"I know that as a region we are poised for success," Lightfoot added. "We are going to bring it home for our residents like never before."
Representing the private sector, Loop Capital founder and CEO Jim Reynolds said the partnership represents the fulfillment of the regionalization he's been pushing for a decade.
Having traveled the world in search of foreign investment, Reynolds said potential partners speak of Chicagoland, not just Chicago. And so he was happy Wednesday to have heard local leaders use that term more in one morning than they had in decades.
Reynolds praised Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, saying his experience is that women have a more successful record than men of putting together economic development partnerships.
Preckwinkle said the new partnership represents the culmination of many years of work.
"We know that regions with the least inequity are the most economically vital," she said. "Because of that fact, it's obviously in our collective interest to work together to grow our region."