This article first appeared at Crain's Chicago Business.
As cities across North America bid to become home to Amazon's so-called HQ2, there's no question Chicago stands out among its rivals. As president of an independent urban planning organization, I've witnessed how inviting, adaptive and inventive metropolitan Chicago can be. Here are my six reasons why Chicago is the most-promising location for Amazon.
1. Location, location, location
Amazon's projected offices would have a larger footprint than Willis Tower and Merchandise Mart combined. Unlike many major metros, Chicago has a hearty inventory of land ripe for economic development. In 2015, for instance, cleaning-supplies company Method built a factory in the Pullman neighborhood after considering 150 sites in four states. Whether downtown, in a neighborhood or the suburbs, Amazon has plenty of options here.
2. Great transit
Thanks to trains, buses and bike paths, getting to work and play doesn't require you to be a road warrior. In fact, Bicycling Magazine named Chicago America's best bike city for 2016. And our L system, which turned 125 this year, is seeing increased investment. In a July op-ed in the New York Times, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wrote with obvious pride about the recent rebuilding of four of the CTA's seven train lines and 40 rehabbed or brand new stations across the city.
3. A global hub, not a Midwest hub
O'Hare International Airport is the sixth busiest in the world, providing easy connections to cities across the nation and around the globe. In 2016, O'Hare also handled over 17,800 international and domestic cargo flights, moving more than 1.7 million tons of goods. In August, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced construction of a cargo facility to house freight customers and expand cargo volumes. Chicago is connected to an expansive ground transportation network. Half of U.S. intermodal freight trains move through Chicago and we are the largest inland port in the country. This adds up to direct access to a national and global audience for Amazon.
4. Addressing—not ignoring—climate change
Amazon has a commitment to sustainability and the environment—from the packaging it uses to green roofs that reduce storm water runoff and combat urban heat-island effects. Chicago shares those values. After President Donald Trump repudiated the Paris climate accord, Emanuel announced goals by 2025 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent in the city and to power all municipal buildings entirely by renewable energy. In fact, we've already cut carbon emissions by 7 percent between 2010 and 2015 by closing coal-fired plants, weatherizing municipal buildings, investing in mass transit and supporting low- and zero-emission vehicles.
5. A growing—and diverse—tech community
Our tech community is vibrant, thriving and expanding. This year, Chicago was ranked 10th worldwide as a tech leader by KPMG. Google is filling up its local office in the West Loop while Microsoft, Oracle and CDW, among others, have major offices in Chicago. Smaller tech companies have found a welcome home here as well. Investment research firm PitchBook found that Chicago (not Silicon Valley or New York) had the highest percentage of profitable startups. And our startups are diverse. At the University of Chicago's Polsky Center incubator, about half of startups are run by people of color or women. CodeNow, run by Kenwood native Neal Sales-Griffin, teaches coding and other tech skills to young people who wouldn't normally have access to technology education.
6. Miles and miles of waterfront
Lake Michigan's beautiful and economically productive shoreline, aka the Third Coast, is a compelling attraction to longtime locals and tourists alike. There's not another city in the world with 18 miles of lakefront preserved as "open, free and clear." But we have 150 miles of river front that was neglected until recently. Now, thanks to Chicago's new Riverwalk and cleanup efforts, builders want to be close to the Chicago River.
Chicago has many other assets: our impressive universities, a diverse economy, a big talented workforce, abundant water. Yes, we're excited about Amazon's 50,000-job projection. We're equally excited to welcome you, Jeff Bezos and your growing team, as our full partner as we continuously reinvent the city that works.