Chicago’s business community has been through a blistering 20 month span: COVID shutdowns, civil unrest, an employment landscape that is still shaking itself out, and like many other big cities, a surge in crime. That translates to an always-full plate for Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar, Lori Lightfoot’s point man on economic and neighborhood development.
Mayekar, ever-upbeat and on-message, is bullish about a booming return to the workplace in January and the strength of the five Chicago casino bids. He teased further announcements on Chicago’s film scene (after the sale of Cinespace), food innovation industry (Nature’s Fynd just unveiled a 200,000 square foot local facility), and the relocation of a medium-sized Texas company to Chicago (following the city’s ad campaign). He also said the city is developing a suite of sweeteners to help older downtown buildings spruce up or switch to residential with the help of the 80/20 bill that recently passed the Illinois General Assembly.
Even on Chicago’s crime numbers—murders are up 59% compared to 2019 and shooting incidents are up 67%—Mayekar contends Chicago gets high marks for engagement from the corporate community and that crime has not bruised the local economy. “That’s why we had 160 companies this year relocate or expand in Chicago. We set records of venture capital raised, over $7 billion. We created 12 unicorns this year. That’s not to offset the fact that we need to be very focused on public safety,” Mayekar says on the latest episode of “A.D. Q&A,” the Tuesday edition of Juice. “The only way, long-term—in my opinion—to tackle that, is to create opportunity, to create jobs, to build home ownership, and to provide those basic amenities in South and West Side neighborhoods that people have in other parts of the city. That is our duty in City Hall, and that’s long-term what’s going to move the needle.”
Click on the image below to listen:
On one significant potential potential hit to Chicago’s economy – the loss of the Chicago Bears to the suburbs—Mayekar was similarly optimistic, arguing cities have more to offer NFL teams than the suburbs. He didn’t deny the Bears’ wishlist included naming rights, a Jumbotron, new seats, and a sportsbook, but echoed Lightfoot’s line that the taxpayer shouldn’t be put on the hook for it. “Part of reform is making sure we’re protecting the taxpayer.”
Mayekar also talks about his time on paternity leave, the CEOs and Chicago companies to watch, and how COVID affected the mayor’s signature Invest South/West program.
Subscribe to Crain’s for $3.25 a week