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Dear Chicago

Chicago turns 175 today. It’s a city that feels younger. Some of that is borne out of necessity – the great fire of 1871 destroyed much of the city. Much of it, in my observation, comes from a culture of innovation and openness, a willingness – common to most successful enterprises – to constantly reinvent itself.

The signs of reinvention are everywhere – in the repurposed buildings and spaces, to those, like Millennium Park, that turned utilitarian spaces into great public ones.

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Former warehouses brought back to life with new businesses and residents northwest of The Loop.

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Navy Pier. Not my favorite, but a repurposed space that has become a popular attraction.

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Millennium Park and the Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion, truly one of the great public spaces, in my opinion.

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Admit it, we all love the bean (that’s me taking the photo in the middle).

You’re always looking up in Chicago. The birthplace of the skyscraper, the skyline towers over you. Waves of glass and steel, celebrating generations of style and design, crowd alongside the Chicago River, vying to capture your attention.

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Buildings loom over Michigan Ave and Millennium Park.

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Skyline, as seen from the Chicago River near Navy Pier.

Chicago is a city you experience from above – from the heights of its tallest buildings, or from the El that rises and travels above the city.

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The El, traveling above you along State Street.

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The second-story high station in Wicker Park.

Yet, the city doesn’t overwhelm you. It’s also a city you can disappear in. Being mere steps away from the glass and steel forest can feel like an entirely different world.

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Finding solitude amidst the business district is easy with amenities like this pool

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The beach along the Lakefront, steps away from the skyscrapers in The Loop.

Further out, as you travel along the El, you find what is still a bustling city, but one that exists at a more human scale. It’s easy to get lost on a sunny afternoon at Wrigley, or a peaceful morning in Wicker Park.

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Afternoon baseball at Wrigley Field.

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The farmers’ market in Wicker Park.

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Peaceful Sunday brunch, in the secluded courtyard at Jam, just off the beaten path in Wicker Park.

Every moment can be an adventure. The character, and spontaneity which so often make cities so great, is abundant. It keeps drawing you back, not just to the city, but to the same places.

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People having fun at Millennium Park on a hot summer day.

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Alternately, many of buildings have details and touches you may not appreciate if you don’t stop and truly explore.

At 175, Chicago doesn’t feel old. It feels like a city that is constantly evolving, and will keep you coming back to see what’s next.

Happy birthday, Chicago. Until next time.

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The Death and Rebirth of Industry and Manufacturing

They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back

Bruce Springsteen, My Hometown

Industrial jobs are not dead. Certainly, many have been lost – shipped overseas, lost to the great recession, or eliminated due to automation or increased efficiency. To follow the dominant public narrative, though, you’d be forgiven for thinking industrial jobs in North America are a relic of the 20th century. Whether it’s the conversion of former ports and industrial lands to residential/commercial space and amenities, the hollowing out of former industrial centers in the Midwest, or pop culture narratives from artists like Bruce Springsteen, the focus has been on what’s been lost, not what’s been preserved, enhanced, and created.

“We have a PR problem”

One of the panelists in the Industrial 2.0 session noted this, that people don’t realize industry still offers well-paying jobs in growth sectors. Keynote speaker Roland Martin, of Fortune 200 Company Illinois Tool Works, echoed this. Dan Swinney of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council noted that not one career counselor he spoke to would refer a kid to a manufacturing job. As I tweeted yesterday, I was surprised to find out that manufacturing is one of the 5 fastest growing industries in Chicago. The other 4 – health, education, hospitality, and culinary – feel rather intuitive, but manufacturing came as a surprise.

Industry and manufacturing is changing, not disappearing entirely. My belief is that the misconception also comes in part from the fact that many of the most recognizable household items – things and brand names we come across regularly – are manufactured (entirely or in part) overseas. We’re much more aware of kitchen items that say ‘Made in China’ than we are about automotive or electronic parts whose origin we’ll never seen branded. For example, Roland Martin spoke about how and where in the United States his company manufactures parts for the iPhone and electronic devices. My home region of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada has an economy driven in large part by the production of oil field parts and supplies. Most consumers will never encounter these in their everyday life.

My inference from listening to the panelists and keynote speakers is that manufacturing and industrial jobs will continue to exist, but they’re going to continue to evolve and change. You can still have a successful, productive career in this sector, but what’s required to do so is different than 50 years ago. Instead of learning the trade of one factory, or aspect of an industry, core competencies and skills that can serve one well in different types of manufacturing will be key. It’s going to be less about learning a specific, rote task, and more about having skills that allow one to adapt and evolve, just as industry and manufacturing do.

Government and education policies need to align with, and encourage this. Panelists talked about land banking, repurposing of old industrial lands, and other strategies governments are pursuing successfully at the macro level for a region. It’s now time to apply those same principles to the current and future industrial/manufacturing work force, ensuring they thrive alongside the industry.

Private Leadership for Public Good

“This is Just What You Do in Chicago”

James Glerum, a board member of the Civic Consulting Alliance, said this early in the session called “Corporate Community Engagement in Chicago: Commitment and Results”, which talked about private sector contribution, and cross-sector collaboration in addressing pressing social issues.

The Alliance brings together pro-bono teams of consultants and experts from different sectors. The session focused on a case study of their partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago, transforming the colleges and reinventing them for the 21st century.

I have previously read about the Alliance, and have been very much looking forward to their participation in this session. Both a board member (Glerum) and a staff member (Brian Fabes, a project manager) spoke, in addition to representatives of Accenture and KPMG, who participate in the Alliance’s efforts.

The Alliance representatives spoke about how they tapped in to Chicago’s long-standing culture of giving back, corporate leadership, and the imperative of collaborating with the organizations you’re helping, not just imposing solutions from the top down. Michael Scimo of Accenture built on this, talking about the value to business beyond social good, of building human capital, the business environment, and helping their employees grow as well.

This session also touches on the evolving role of public sector leadership. Cheryl Hyman, the President of City Colleges of Chicago, is as innovative and entrepreneurial as any successful private sector CEO. Her approach, working with the Alliance, is a departure from how education reform has happened in the past.

Another comment that resonated with me, from Terry Mazany of the Chicago Community Trust, is that these problems are ‘bigger than any single organization can take on’. It speaks to the importance of involving everyone – the organizations directly involved, along with the private sector, government, and other leaders, in addressing social issues.

The question then becomes, how do you best foster, or harness, this culture and use it for the greater good? The Chicago model would seem to be:

1. Figure Out Your Corporate Culture
Do you have a culture of giving back? Who are your business leaders, and what do they like to engage in? What are companies looking for? Do they want to give money, time, or do they want to add value beyond that?

2. Build True Partnerships
The CCA and public organizations truly work hand-in-hand. It’s not about top-down solutions, or fixes imposed from outside. Consultants and public leaders engage in long-term collaborative processes to improve the public good.

3. Change Takes Time
The CCA projects are long-term, over a period of years. It’s easy to get distracted as there are always new issues commanding attention, but they recognize that you have to stay focused, and implement change in a long, continuous process.

Every city is different, but the lessons from Chicago will go a long way everywhere.