Economic Development Meetings In Chicago

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I traveled to Chicago again for another set of economic development meetings in Chicago these past few months.  Meetings and topics ranged across public and private sector initiatives and projects across the region.
We had the chance to talk to an array of planners, developers, insurance, and legal parties involved in regional development.
  1. Economic Development: Most of the meetings focused on ED and TOD plans for the city and region in general.   Already in the public domain is the planned express rail project from O’Hare airport directly to downtown Chicago.  While a obvious benefit to travelers and commuters the discuss still revolves around potential routes and trade-offs.   This planning also is related to the O’Hare development activities around a new terminal on the western edge of the airport.   Many developments like this influence our thinking and prioritization around investment in the region around innovation centers and education centers.
  2. Insurance:  We met with reps from several large scale insurance companies that specialize in risk management around large scale projects.   In many cases of transformational projects one of the largest hurtles is the indemnification of high risk zones of construction or environmental hazard.    Many times sites under go development to reclaim a brown field location ( environmental contaminated site) only to have problems emerge many years later and requiring extensive cost to address.   Insurance strategies must parallel the actual project in terms of strategic planning.    A second aspect of interest is the role the risk management companies play in regulating costs in general development in the bidding process.  Large amounts of savings can be negotiated and returned to the project for other high priority needs.
  3. Sites: While sites ranged from downtown, to the airport, and into the southern suburbs, one Chicago success stories is at the Pullman site to the south.   This region was historically and engineered city to support the manufacturing of the Pullman rail cars and to support that community of workers and their family.   This region is undergoing a rennassance on several levels.   Areas of the historical town have been declared a national park preserving the architecture and heritage.   Other areas of the region are being redeveloped in terms of manufacturing and retail which strengthens the economic and destination aspects of the area.   This area of the state is also unique in the USA as being a central hub of transportation.   Multiple interstates,  major rail lines, and the canal from the great lakes to the Mississippi all converge in this county making it a strategic hub in the nations transportation systems.
  4. Brown Field:  We had a change to meet  Dan French from http://www.brownfieldlistings.com.  He is a young entrepreneur who is creating a portal for all listings of Brown Field sites in America.   Brown Field is become a critical consideration for regional master planning in terms of both reposing strategic locations and for the environmental clean up considerations that encumber the land.    Having a thriving portal can both increase the effectiveness of planning, investment and overall awareness of the environmental conditions in regions.   It can also serve long term as a source of critical data to look at trends,  costs, and implications of current and past decisions.

2014 Rail-volution Conference

Railvolution 1I attended the 2014 Rail-volution conference   looking at trends in economic development and transportation oriented development.  This past year we worked with some large scale TOD projects that included high speed rail projects in North America.  It was interesting to see the different approaches programs in a variety of states where pursuing.  One key difference revolves around have the core of the funding be public or private backed.   Both options have their advantages and complications.   Public funding is very politically complicated, involving more effort in securing support, but possibly providing stronger alignment going forward.   Private funding tends to have deeper pockets and makes more ambitious projects possible.  The complications on the private side involves alignment to public interest vs. corporate and ultimately long term ownership and maintenance of the solutions.   Both have their advantages and can be combined into Public + Private ventures.

Another major variable involves the inclusion of foreign investment capital.   I’ve been involved in a number of regional investment conversations with foreign nations.   In today’s world climate,  north america represents one of the few stable regions in the world today for investing,  especially in infrastructure.   Many countries have strong capital reserves they desperately need to invest, but the idea of global markets is a risky proposition and north america is very attractive.  Have countries invest in America, its infrastructure, and its future is a great way to increase relationship with foreign powers.  In most cases,  foreign investors are very flexible no the ownership issues,  preferring regional ownership long term, and looking more at security of capital and returns.

These investments get more interesting and regional impact increases when multiple stakeholder groups come together.   When you combine transportation investments built around new innovation centers,  education centers,  industry parks,  research parks, conference centers, etc – then a multiply effect comes into effect where you are creating new capabilities for the region and career / lifestyle options that attract and retain the next generation of talent.  Again,  it also pays to look past ones primary project into parallel efforts.  For example:  Transportation projects also change adjacent real estate value and possibilities.  Combining efforts through joint ventures  with other real estate development groups can be a great multiplier for support and financing.

This event was a great showcase of projects and approaches.  Networking with economic development firms and state agencies was fantastic and factors into ongoing networking.  Looking forward to attending the next event.

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