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On Nov. 9, Andres Mendoza Pena, a partner with the global management consulting firm Kearney, led a panel discussion on Chicago’s performance in Kearney’s 2021 Global Cities Report.

Chicago maintained its status as a top city for business, placing 8th globally out of more than 150 cities (The top 3 were New York, London and Paris). Chicago is especially strong in the categories of human capital (quality of universities, diversity of foreign-born population, etc.) and business activities (everything from the flow of goods to the number of corporate headquarters).

Panelists agreed there are plenty of reasons for Chicago to have a bright future, but there’s significant work to be done or the city could start losing out. The best news for Chicago may be the depth of its educated labor force.

“Our study shows over time that human capital and business activity are the two fundamental pillars to enable cities to improve their standing in the global stage.”

-Andres Mendoza Pena, Partner, Kearney

“Post-pandemic, or even during the pandemic, we are living in a global talent market. …A lot of talent can now officially choose to go wherever they want. And employers can choose to employ wherever they want. So their mobility, and as a result of that, the competitiveness between cities, means more than any time before. …The findings are a reminder of just how much potential Chicago has.”

-Lior Ron, Head of Uber Freight, Uber

Chicago’s weaknesses in the Kearney study show up in the Outlook component, which tracks potential future performance based on indicators including personal well-being, innovation and governance. Chicago ranks a disappointing 57th overall, including 119th place for personal well-being, which encompasses safety, security, quality of health care and income inequality.

“This is the second year in a row where there is no U.S. city in the top 10 of the Outlook. When we analyze the underlying trends we see that U.S. cities are falling behind, mostly because of governance metrics, which to some extent, are influenced by the federal government policies. But also because of personal well-being. On the other hand, what we are seeing is the rise of Chinese cities.”

-Andres Mendoza Pena, Partner, Kearney

“We have strong human capital, and still have the ability to attract and retain talent in Chicago. But it’s very troubling to see where we are in the Outlook, not only our city, but our country. And there’s so much that we’re going to need to” do.

-Marsha Cruzan, Regional President, U.S. Bank

“We have watched the health disparities exposed by COVID show that life expectancy is radically different according to ZIP code in the same city. And then we have racial inequities that have been perpetuated for decades. So, you know, it’s pretty clear that we are not using all of our human capital to advance this city in a global market. And I would say that Mayor Lightfoot understood this inherently.”

-Maurice Cox, Commissioner, Department of Planning and Development, City of Chicago

Ron of Uber Freight said his firm placed its headquarters in Chicago because of the city’s stable talent pool.

“Attrition rates across U.S. employers right now are 20% or higher, which is a crazy number. We’re living in a big job rotation. …On the one hand, it’s a threat. On the other hand, it’s an opportunity because it means that companies are choosing where they’re going to place 20% of the talent every year. Chicago does have a unique opportunity because that 20% is coming to us.”

-Lior Ron, Head of Uber Freight, Uber

Chicago attracts more foreign investment than any other U.S. city. Andres Mendoza Pena asked Cruzan how the city can improve its positioning and attract more capital.

“We start with a very good urban transportation system. We have six of the seven class 1 railroads that run through Chicago. We have all those ingredients that create that opportunity for foreign investment. But we have the other things that we need to solve: Safety, security, the branding of our city, the increased investment we need in transportation, income and health inequality — all of those things that we need to present a better picture to the world.”

-Marsha Cruzan, Regional President, U.S. Bank

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