• Editorial
  • What Chicago can learn from the Amazon HQ2 bid

    The pitch documents for Amazon's second headquarters, revealed exclusively by Crain's, still have much to teach us about the city's economic development challenges.

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    Presented with the opportunity to see for the first time the city of Chicago's entire pitch for Amazon's second headquarters, it's tempting to shrug and move on. After all, Chicago lost out 15 months ago on its bid for this gigantic prize, which was ultimately split between the Washington, D.C., area and New York City (that is, before New York and Amazon unceremoniously parted ways).

    But the bid documents for the so-called HQ2, revealed exclusively by Crain's79彩票注册网址, still have much to teach us about the city's economic development challenges, because two of the biggest—our reputations for crime and fiscal mismanagement—persist. And despite the Emanuel administration's best efforts to put a positive gloss on those thorny problems, it's evident that some things aren't so easily explained away.

    On crime, the city gamely attempted a "the other guy is just as bad" approach, with a "you're never going to go to these neighborhoods anyway" twist:

    "Please see the attached bar chart showing homicides in Chicago over the last 50 years. Fifty percent of the homicide rise in 2016 came from five neighborhoods on the south and far west sides that account for only 9 percent of the city's population . . . crime is concentrated in the dark red areas on the south and far west sides, while the far north, near south, far south and southwest sides, as well as the over 50 square miles along the Lake (from Evanston down to Bronzeville) have crime rates comparable to Manhattan."

    79彩票注册网址And regarding the state's ruinous finances—including a long-term pension deficit well north of $100 billion at the time and a backlog of unpaid bills that had just topped $16 billion—the bid stretches the truth almost comically:

    "An objective look at the operations of state government and the condition of state finances reveals no significant cause for concern about investing in Illinois. Illinois continues to work towards improving its fiscal condition, despite public confusion surrounding some key facts. Disaggregating Illinois' fiscal challenges and examining government operations before debt service and pension costs reveals an encouraging story. Illinois operates government, before interest and pension expense, with a surplus." (Emphasis ours.)

    79彩票注册网址To give the bid team members credit, they were doing the best they probably could with what they had, on the hope that Amazon's arrival would help the Chicago area solve these and other pernicious regional problems. And people involved with Chicago's bid insist we were in the running far longer than many observers expected. In the end, however, Amazon's eye roved elsewhere, and roughly three years after the e-commerce giant touched off a nationwide municipal version of "The Bachelor" that drew offers from 238 cities vying for the promised 50,000 white-collar jobs, Chicago's problems with violent crime and financial crisis remain. There has indeed been progress on both fronts. But we're still stuck with pensions we can't afford to properly finance, and too many people live in neighborhoods where the likelihood of getting shot is a daily consideration.

    Those problems and others will continue to hold Chicago and the state back until we demand that our elected leaders find the political will to solve them. This is why Crain's has dedicated itself to publishing the Forum79彩票注册网址, a monthly deep dive into the challenges facing us all—as well as an array of potential solutions.

    The HQ2 hunt was a chance for Chicago to strut its considerable stuff. With the benefit of hindsight, these newly surfaced bid documents now provide us a chance to take a hard look in the mirror and ask why that stuff wasn't enough—and what realistically needs to be done to improve our fortunes, Amazon or no.

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