At a time when it seems the bad times will never end, last week was a good-news week in Chicago.
On Monday a report by Avison Young and Real Capital Analytics named Chicago the nation's number one location for industrial development. On Tuesday, Mayor Emanuel joined Alderman Anthony Beale in breaking ground for the new Whole Foods Midwest Distribution Center. This investment brings an150 permanent jobs from 'right to-work" state Indiana to Chicago's Pullman Park which has already generated more than 750 new jobs on the site in the last four years.
These events, in turn, build upon the previous week's news of Mayor Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle sharing the podium as they announced their joint "Growth Zones" program, designed to lure new manufacturers and jobs to Chicago and Cook County.
What made the Whole Foods and what has been called the 'Pullman Renaissance' possible, and what informs the Growth Zone strategy and the report, is an awareness and understanding of Chicago's unparalleled advantage - our geography and infrastructure. While there are other places that can compete in terms of workforce and technology, Chicago's geography and infrastructure are unmatched. There is virtually no other place in North America from which you can reach the entirety of the North and South American continents and both oceans by air, road, rail and water.
A bright spot in federal, state and local policy there has both been continuous investment in the areas transportation infrastructure. As painful as the seemingly yearly construction delays may be, our roads and bridges are solid. And over the last decade both aviation and rail have seen the investment of billions of both public and private dollars - reducing air delays and as significantly reducing freight and passenger delays by more than 30 percent. These investments have protected and created thousands of needed jobs. All of which bring me to the curious response from Chicago Alderman Sadlowski-Garza and Longshoremen Vice President Raymond Sierra to rumors that a deal to revamp Chicago's Port may be in the works. Rather than welcome the prospect of investment in a long-neglected city asset, they expressed fears that privatization would mean loss of control and union jobs.
As one of many who have worked to revitalize the manufacturing and population base of the Calumet area, it is puzzling to read that two of the area's leaders are condemning Mayor Emanuel's attempts to modernize the area's most neglected and underutilized asset: the Port of Illinois. Nothing could be more detrimental to the working people of the south side of Chicago.
In contrast to road, air and rail investment, the last significant investment in Chicago's Port was made 40 years ago, when in 1978 commercial shipping ended at Navy Pier and the City acquired 190 acres to establish Iroquois Landing. In the intervening decades, under City ownership and management, Chicago's Port has languished, best known only for building garbage dumps and a golf course, with no new investment, poor marketing and deferred maintenance.
Taking a distinctly different pathway, Indiana understood the potential and continued both to directly invest and garner private investments in intermodal facilities that connect the Port to 15 rail lines. According to its website more ocean-related cargo passes through the Port than through any other in the Midwest. The Port boasts roughly 500 thousand trucks, 10 thousand rail cars, 400 barges and one 100 ships each year. In addition, the site serves as an attractor for manufacturers who prize the access to rail, road and water that the Port provides.
As a result the Port at Burns Harbor generates $4.3 billion per year in economic impact and supports 32,000 total jobs. The port of Chicago, on the other hand, generates only $1.2 billion and supports 6,394 jobs.
Those of us who have worked to revitalize the manufacturing base in Calumet were encouraged four years ago, when Mayor Emanuel turned his attention to the Port. Assessing the situation, the study by the Bank of Montreal suggested that the Illinois Port consider privatizing management (not selling off) the facility so that it might realize its full potential for jobs and commerce. We agree. Our only complaint is that it has taken so long to find an entity willing and able to take on the task.
The Calumet region is going through an industrial renaissance with new companies like Method and Whole Foods moving into the area, existing companies like Ford making large investments of $1 Billion in the Torrence Avenue Plant and with great assistance from the marketing and cajoling efforts of Mayor Emanuel.
We are hopeful that with the new energy and proven leadership of Clayton Harris Ill, the Port is poised for revitalization. With City support, the Port must move forward now with a plan for private management, new investment and aggressive marketing. Just as he has done for Pullman, we encourage the Mayor to aggressively recruit the best port operator available while at the same time making this an open and transparent process involving local elected officials, industry leaders and community organizations.
Chicago, particularly it's South Side, needs jobs and economic opportunity. Lets move forward with the Port.