Go for the Bold: Biz Leaders Should Support Global Push

Saturday, June 17, 2000
by Marc J. Lane

Reprint permission from the June 17, 2000 issue of Crain's Chicago Business.

Both the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois are hungry for high-tech businesses and are making significant progress in attracting them.

The city claims to be home to more than 8,000 technology-based businesses, employing nearly 280,000 Chicagoans. The Mayor's Council of Technology Advisors, a group of public and private leaders who promote the retention and growth of Chicago's Internet businesses, has helped shape a "Chicago Technology Action Plan."

The Plan, still to be implemented, is intended to develop a digital infrastructure and a skilled workforce for a digital economy.

For its part, the state has launched Venture-Tech, a five-year, $1.9-billion strategy for investing state resources in research and development, information technology, education and biotechnology.

The city and state should be applauded for their investment in people and programs. Developing human capital and a world-class technological infrastructure will certainly help us compete in the global economy.

Although the political will to build Chicago into a global city with global entrepreneurial potential is clearly in evidence, the city is hamstrung by its past.

Founded as a safe haven for immigrants, Chicago grew to become a great trading center, an innovator of financial markets, the site of top-tier cultural and educational institutions and a powerhouse of professional talent.

Yet the very success of the city's businesses has allowed them to remain complacently local, if not provincial. Its biggest multinational companies operate in a decentralized way, with employees at the home office likely to be involved only with Chicago, or at best, national operations.

Just as Chicago-based businesses don't tend to think globally, neither do their bosses. While most of New York's business leaders are internationally connected executives who grew up in international law, media and finance, the established leaders of Chicago's business community are mostly LaSalle Street types, who are more interested in trading than global finance.

Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. George Ryan are on the right track, but money and jobs simply aren't enough. For the city's and state's evolving game plans to do all they can, a new generation of Chicago business leaders must be encouraged to become citizens of the world.

A newly released report commissioned by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation offers many thoughtful and concrete recommendations.

Among them, it prescribes a "small service organization to facilitate cooperation among organizations, promote the co-sponsorship of activities and serve as a physical counterpart of... (a 'Global Chicago') Web site."

Let's be bolder.

Let's lobby the city to spearhead a Center for Global Leadership, a public-private coalition strategically linking the city, its businesses, major cultural and research institutions, agencies and organizations ≠ and even its ethnic communities, whose roots grow deep all over the world, to build a strong and committed community of international business leaders in Chicago.

With only modest funding, such a catalyst can marshal and mobilize the resources and energy it takes to foster the emergence of Chicago's first global business leaders.

Marc J. Lane ( is a Chicago lawyer and financial planner and an adjunct professor of law at Northwestern University School of Law.


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Copyright © 2000 by Crain Communications Inc.

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