CHICAGO (CBS) — Could Chicago become the Silicon Valley of the Midwest? If Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets his way, it’s a very real possibility.
CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports was at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Tuesday, trying to make his new dream for Chicago come true.
The mayor made history when he became the first Chicago mayor to visit UIUC to address students directly, as part of the Chicago After Hours recruiting event.
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Emanuel sounded like the city’s cheerleader-in-chief as he spoke for more than an hour, encouraging engineering and computer science students to come to Chicago after they graduate. He touted the city as the budding Silicon Valley of the Midwest.
“I believe your future is in the city of Chicago, and I want you to see the opportunities in Chicago as part of your future. Both the businesses, but also the quality of life,” Emanuel told students.
It was standing room only in the auditorium at UIUC’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Students were eager to hear from a star-studded panel of technology entrepreneurs, who talked about what GrubHub founder Mike Evans referred to as the “Golden Age of Startups” in Chicago.
Evans said that so-called Golden Age is happening right now. He was joined by Groupon and and venture fund Lightbank co-founder Brad Keywell, and Eric Lundt, chief technologist for digital marketing technology startup BrightTag.
Asked where he would rank Chicago as a tech friendly city, Lundt, said, “I think if you’d asked me that question 10 years ago, I would have hemmed and hawed, and said pretty far down the list. But I think the kinds of things that have happened over the last two, three years definitely puts us in the top three.”
UIUC mechanical engineering student Jason Roesslein said, “I think that there’s big things to be done in Chicago that Silicon Valley might have an over-concentration of, that new ideas in Chicago can definitely happen.”
According to Forbes Magazine, by some estimates, a new digital startup launches once every 48 hours in Chicago. Much of that activity has been centered around the Merchandise Mart and the River North neighborhood.
The mayor didn’t come alone when he visited UIUC. He brought along representatives of 39 tech companies to recruit students to work in Chicago.