Lightfoot hypes an economic job well done, ignoring her shortcomings

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Ignoring or shrugging off a continuing murder wave, record-high office vacancy rates downtown and dozens of empty storefronts along the Magnificent Mile, Lightfoot said the city’s progress has been so good that revenues in her 2022 city budget are running $200 million ahead of projections.

She also announced a new jobs development in the Back of the Yards area, one of a series of projects on the West and South sides that Lightfoot has pushed as a matter of equity.

“There is a narrative out there that the city is headed in the wrong direction,” Lightfoot said in remarks as prepared for delivery. “That noise is completely belied by these objective data points, which show a very robust economy that is creating jobs and opportunity.”

Quoting boxer Muhammed Ali about the importance of getting up after you’re knocked down, Lightfoot continued. “Despite the naysayers and skeptics, the truth is we have a lot to be proud of in Chicago.”

Among data points cited by the mayor:

• Chicago, she said, began the year with a lower unemployment rate than New York City, Los Angeles and Houston at 4.3%.

• The city has attracted nearly $7 billion in venture capital last year, No. 4 in the country, topping Seattle. But Seattle is a fraction of Chicago’s size, and Chicago had a tenth of the number of big VC deals last year as New York.

• Not only traditional tech, but biotech and agricultural firms have also grown quickly in the city.

• O’Hare International Airport became the nation’s No. 1 airport by trade value of cargo last year. But at the same time, it now is only the nation’s fourth-largest airfield by passenger traffic, a category in which it used to be No. 1.

• “Retail traffic is up in Chicago, and retail rents went up in 2020, where NYC and L.A. saw decreases.” But Water Tower Place, once one of the busiest vertical malls in the country, now is mostly empty, and a nearby shopping complex recently sold at a small fraction of its previous value.

“Why are you not nearing about the core strengths of the Chicago economy that set us apart from every other city in the country and demonstrate that we are better positioned than most to come back stronger than ever?” Lightfoot asked. She did not answer her own question. Instead, she declared, "We need to own our own narrative."

Lightfoot said that progress is continuing this year, with building permit revenues now running at 91.9% of the pre-pandemic level and St. Patrick’s Day festivities drawing as big of crowds as ever.

What’s at least as important, Lightfoot said, is that more growth is going into long-neglected portions of the city, with her vaunted Invest South/West program having lined up $1.4 billion in promised investments. The city also properly moved to end “regressive practices” that hurt low-income families by forgiving $140 million in vehicle license and storage fees, she said. “All of this happened in a pandemic.”

The new development announced by Lightfoot will be Harvest Food Group, a manufacturing company that specializes in frozen foods, which will relocate to an 8-acre abandoned site in the old Union Stock Yards area. The move will save 200 jobs and bring 50 new ones, the company said.

Perhaps being diplomatic, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce CEO Jack Lavin praised Lightfoot for “doing what mayors are supposed to do: be a cheerleader for Chicago."

"There are good things happening," he said. "And she talked about it.”

But even Lavin said he wished Lightfoot “would have talked a little more about public safety” and the city’s plans to curb problems.

“When you talk to everyday people and companies, public safety is the number one concern,” he said.

Lightfoot’s only reference to crime came toward the end of the speech.

"Our challenges, particularly around public safety, are real, complicated and decades in the making" she said. But, "we are making progress," with homicides and shootings so far this year, she said.

As for Lightfoot’s re-election? “Sorry, not today, but soon.” Lightfoot said. “Be patient.”

via Crain’s Chicago Business

April 19, 2022 at 06:06PM

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