Chicago as the New Silicon Valley

In Amy Scott’s article “Creating the Next Silicon Valley in Chicago” for Marketplace, she discusses the possibility of an upcoming technological boom in Chicago. Specifically, she references the presence of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign as a potential source of talent for such a boom; the school itself is widely respected, but “its students are often drawn to other shores”.  Talent retention has been a concern for Chicago in the past, as “[founders] of Youtube, Paypal, and Yelp also studied there before heading west”. To help solve this issue, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel “[wants] to draw the talent [to Chicago]”, and believes that “the companies will follow”.

To achieve this goal, Chicago is emphasizing the creation and maintenance spaces in which companies and new technologies can grow. The Merchandise Mart, “a massive building of showrooms and shops”, is becoming such a hub. Motorola Mobility now occupies space within the building, as do 100 startups sharing office space.

An issue that Chicago is facing, however, is the overall culture within the city; according to Margaret O’Mara of the University of Washington, Silicon Valley is unique in its “extraordinary tolerance or risk and failure”, and that such a culture doesn’t yet exist in Chicago. If that cultural impediment can be overcome, however, Chicago holds great potential for new companies. Lightbank, “a venture capital firm run by the co-founders of Groupon” has already begun changing the economic culture of tech startups in the city, having invested in 53 companies after only 18 months. If such trends continue, the potential technological success of Chicago would likely have far-reaching economic implications for the Midwest as a whole.