As we settle into a new year, I have been thinking about the future of the African-American community, and more specifically about economic development, and its direct impact on us.
While I in no way wish to minimize the past or the present, I find it important and productive to think about the future – what’s to come and how we can prepare to benefit and move forward in a positive way. To that end, there are amazing things that are happening, some big and some small. Today I want to focus on the one big thing that can play a significant role in accelerating the growth and development of the South and West Sides of Chicago – the location of Amazon’s second headquarters HQ2.
The world continues to watch what’s happening in our great city, only getting a glimpse of it through the lens of tragedies, with no view of the everyday heroes who are sustaining neighborhoods where hope has been significantly diminished. Amazon or not, change has to come to these two large geographic footprints in Chicago. Disinvestment can no longer occur if we are to move Chicago forward as a whole.
The location of Amazon HQ2 on the Burnham Lakefront site, which most people know as the old Michael Reese Hospital property, would be a real game changer for the South Side. Its boundaries are far larger than just the old Michael Reese Hospital campus. Its boundaries are the Stephenson Expressway on the North, 31st Street on the South, Lakeshore Drive on the East, and Indiana Avenue on the West. This is a significant parcel of land with great attributes, including its lakefront location, proximity to public transit, housing stock, and access to world-class technology infrastructure.
Amazon choosing this site as its new second headquarters would create an amazing economic boon to the South Side because of its geographic location, its magnitude and the mere nature of what a corporate campus brings to any location. Imagine if the South Side had a doorway to McCormick Place, the new DePaul Arena and the loop that could drive tourists into the community. A bridge, if you will, that crosses over to stimulate economic activity. I am in no way minimizing any potential downside, but the benefit significantly outweighs any challenges. The most obvious benefit is the 50,000 jobs that the company has said it will bring to any city. For us it is not only about the employment and contracting opportunities directly with Amazon, but more importantly, it is about the ripple effect. Large employers mean more–more in many, many different ways. It means more customers for existing businesses, more restaurants, retail shops, service providers, renters, and opportunity. It presents opportunity in many different ways, some that have not been conceived as of yet. Its mere presence will spur innovation in many different industries. It is the ripple effect that we want to reap the benefits of. The multiplier will go much further than just the campus locating here and directly hiring Chicago residents.
This global company can bring about lots of positive change–a new vibrancy from 22nd Street down to Jackson Park and the Obama Library Campus and beyond. Chicago is a perfect place for Amazon because it is a global city. We have access to the world from our airports, a good public transit system, great cultural institutions, diverse communities, including those located on the South Side. We are more than the myriad of stories focusing on the violence in our neighborhoods that is portrayed in the local and national press. This is a moment in time when we should be amplifying the positive attributes of our neighborhoods, showcasing the great people who are doing great things and raising our collective voices to rally in support of an opportunity that can benefit us most. We should stand up and raise our hands to Jeff Bezos and say we want you here; we welcome and encourage you to select Chicago as your new second home. We are all in for Amazon in Chicago!
Kimberly McCullough-Starks is President & CEO of Platinum Public Strategies, LLC, a community engagement, diversity inclusion and public affairs firm. She has decades of experience in the public and private sector working with local chambers of commerce, non-profits and government on community development matters.