Mayor Emanuel is a great salesman for Chicago

I give a lot of credit to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for placing education and job training among his top priorities and understanding that companies will come where they can find an educated workforce.

"I believe what adults should do is build for the next generation," Emanuel told my friend Charlie Meyerson in an exclusive Rivet News Radio interview. "I always enjoy talking to the mayor, he was on his usual game," Meyerson told me later.

Mayor Emanuel may have wanted to give a boost to HearHere's Rivet, but the mayor's office did not respond to my email questions about his interest in promoting Chicago start-ups.


The mayor is delivering on what Jeffrey Carter, co-founder of Hyde Park Angels, called for in 2012:

Rahm Emanuel is a very good salesman for Chicago. He's done what a mayor should do. He's supportive of entrepreneurs and he's out selling Chicago as a business place. . . . The mayor has said he wants to create a 'culture of entrepreneurs,' and I'd like to see him tackle that sooner rather than later. Entrepreneurs will bring jobs here, but the city of Chicago is not friendly to starting a business. There are way too many regulations, taxes are too high and there are too many hoops to jump through.

Mayor Emanuel inherited a failing school system, but he now points to rising high school graduation rates following a controversial school consolidation. Four of the five best high schools in Illinois are in Chicago, the mayor proudly says. Eight of the top 10 elementary schools are in Chicago.

As the school system struggles to balance the books, Emanuel says it is first about the books kids read.

"You don't get a do-over" on education," Emanuel adds.

Chicago is also focused on community college improvements, as well as a $250 million JPMorgan Chase jobs skills program over the next five years. "It's giving Chicago, as well as the students, real economic advantage."

In the next 30 years there will be "a massive competition for talent and skills, and we have to get everybody on the field contributing to their own well-being," Emanuel said.

Mayor Emanuel is luring international corporate headquarters, resources and jobs to Chicago mostly without old-style tax breaks -- instead selling what the city has to offer. He seems to really enjoy selling the benefits of locating in Chicago.

Chicago continues to lower reported crime rates. Mayor Emanuel and the city, though, continue to battle a media narrative emphasizing specific incidents of violent crime.

Emanuel brushes off media criticism. "This is a government closest to people, but you don't feel how close that is," he says of his job. "It's up close and personal, and that's exciting."

Mayor Emanuel's success is related to clear goals and ongoing evaluation. "I hold people accountable to get results."

Among those results are 23 international corporate headquarters moving to Chicago in the past two years. Mayor Emanuel says "the race for talent" is one important incentive.

Another is modern transportation.

O'Hare now offers 41 direct flights to China every week. I've taken one of these to Shanghai, and you cannot discount this as an important incentive for companies to locate here.

By embarking on a $492 million four year Blue Line improvement, Chicago will be able to cut 10 minutes off commute times from O'Hare to downtown by replacing older track in slow zones.

Mayor Emanuel persuades corporate executives by appealing to their self-interests. "We gave the things that actually hit their bottom line," he says. "We have the things people want." That includes a great culture and business community.

Mayor Emanuel has a Google Motorola phone made by a company that moved 2,500 jobs to Chicago.

I cannot imagine sitting on the other side of a negotiating table with this mayor. He is tough and persuasive. He'll need to be to continue to grow the economy and balance budgets.

"We're not done," he said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us."


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