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posted: 10/18/2017 7:00 AM

Chicago's Amazon bid focuses on workforce and transportation

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CHICAGO -- Chicago has officially thrown its hat in the ring with a bid for Amazon's massive second headquarters, adding to the growing competition from cities bragging about their talent pool, quality of life and cultural amenities to lure the tech giant and its promise of jobs.

While some cities have creatively played up their hipness or gently ribbed Seattle with pitches of year-round sunny weather, Chicago has played it straight. There have been some mentions of top restaurants, lakefront living and Chicago's position as a transportation hub, but the main focus has been the region's qualified workforce.

To shape the bid Chicago submitted this week, officials convened a committee with some 600 members including big corporate names such as United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Others include restaurateurs, neighborhood groups and religious leaders.

"Really, there are only a few cities that could match the scale they (Amazon) need and attract additional, appropriate employees to the city," said Chicago Deputy Mayor Robert Rivkin, who's overseeing the city's bid.

Committee members are eager to rattle off statistics involving the dense concentration of engineering programs. That includes how the University of Illinois awarded more engineering undergraduate degrees in 2016 than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology combined, according to the American Society for Engineering Education.

Because of the competition, details of Chicago's bid are being closely guarded, including talk of incentives. But officials admit several locations in downtown, city neighborhoods and its suburbs are possibilities for what's been dubbed HQ2.

One location getting buzz is a 1930s-era post office straddling a major expressway that Mayor Rahm Emanuel toured with fanfare last month. The building - billed as the world's largest post office - is undergoing a $600 million renovation and is close to transportation networks, including city trains that can get to O'Hare International Airport in under an hour.

In submitting Monday's proposal, Emanuel said Chicago has "unparalleled potential."

In turn, city officials project Amazon could bring an estimated $71 billion in salaries and wages over a 17-year period, according to the nonprofit development group World Chicago Business.

Still, there are hurdles for attracting businesses to Illinois, which recently ended a historic state budget impasse and has major financial problems, including the lowest credit rating of any state nationwide.

"That is the challenge here: The fact that we have budgets that continue to be unbalanced, that we have so far been not very good at addressing those issues," said Deputy Gov. Leslie Munger, who is also a point person on the city's bid.

She's separately helping state officials boost a pitch for St. Louis, which could benefit economically depressed areas downstate.

Meanwhile, others are trying to play up Chicago's intangible qualities, including residents' grit.

"The Valley is the Valley and New York has done a good job and is the media hub, so it's easier to brag about," said Chicago committee member Howard Tullman, the CEO of 1871, a leading tech incubator named after the period of innovation that followed the Great Chicago Fire. "We're sort of a put-your-head-down community, where we just work real hard and build real business. It's not quite as glitzy."

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Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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