Will The New Mayor Lead Chicago Tech?

By January 19, 2011

Is there a champion for Chicago tech here?

Our city is embroiled in a historic election. For most of the last 50 years or so, a Daley has been the Mayor of Chicago. The rules were known and everyone knew them.

Now, the times they are a’changin.

Chicago was a business city from its founding. In the 1890’s New York City’s elite used to deride Chicago as being ONLY about business and not having any culture. Our Opera House has its front to the East and its rear to the west. If you look at the side facing the Chicago River (west), it looks like a giant throne and, as it turns out, there is a good reason.

The man that had the Opera House built wanted it to look like a throne and to face away from New York; kind of a giant thumbing of the nose as it were.

A little over 100 years later and Chicago is a world-class city, yes- but it is no longer the hog butcher of the world. Now we inhabit a city that is built on finance, advertising, some manufacturing… and information. As America is increasingly leaving the Industrial Age behind and moving ever deeper and faster into the Information Age, things have changed. For one, the air is easier to breathe.

We all know the story of Silicon Valley- but now it’s the 21st century and innovation is happening everywhere. The most famous name in Chicago these days is Groupon. Two years ago, Groupon was a website built on a WordPress blog platform that can be purchased for under $40.

Why is Groupon a success? For the same reason companies like GrubHub, Orbitz, Careerbuilder, EDL Consutling are; for the same reasons Jabbery Jury, Tap Me Games, EduLenders, FeeFighters, Delivered Innovation, Sitter City, BrightTag, Viewpoints, SocialKaty, CloudBot, TheAppHouse, MapDing, Present Bee, DealsGoRound, Poggled, ShelfLuv, and KeyLimeTie all are going to be- Chicago has some of the brightest minds in the industry right here in Chicago. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Here’s a note to Chicago’s Mayoral Candidates: DO NOT BLOW THIS

Right now in Springfield our “brilliant” state government has passed the quickly-becoming-infamous “Amazon Tax.” The absolute short-sightedness that produced this tax shows that our state government:

1. Has the faintest of clues how the online industry really works, and
2. Wants us all to live in Indiana or Wisconsin.

The Amazon Tax basically requires businesses that do affiliate payouts (like Netflix, Amazon.com, and Zappos) to small companies to collect sales tax on behalf of the State Of Illinois.

Not surprisingly, Amazon, Netflix and every other company that does business online has said in unison, “We just won’t do affiliate deals with Illinois based businesses.”

This means that small entrepreneurs innovating at nights and on weekends outside their day jobs creating the ‘Next Great Thing’ are suddenly out of business with no revenue stream. Our state government really and truly seems completely ignorant.

The Governors of Indiana and Wisconsin are licking their chops and are eagerly wooing Chicago based tech companies to move to their state. One gets the feeling that our legislators in Springfield think moving a company is a huge expense and that tech companies in Chicago wouldn’t move.

Dear Illinois Government: If you think its expensive to pack a bunch of servers and laptops into cardboard boxes for a drive to Bloomington or Madison….well, one is instantly reminded of Blago on “The Apprentice” being unable to type.

The topic of the ‘Amazon Tax’ is a whole other article- let’s get back to Chicago.

Recently I reached out to the three major candidates running for Mayor of our fair city: Gery Chico, Rahm Emmanuel, and Carol Moseley Braun.

We have all seen them on TV running around the city to and fro meeting with teachers, union workers and police.

Here are the questions Chicago’s tech community is waiting for answers on:

1. What do you see the role of the Mayor being in Chicago’s startup tech community?

2. How important will it be for the administration to support the growth of Chicago’s tech community?

3. Does the new Mayor have a plan increase the profile of Chicago as a destination for new companies to be launched? If so, what are some of the details?

4. In the new Mayor’s opinion, what companies best exemplify Chicago’s tech community?

5. Where should Chicago’s tech community be in 5 years vs. now?

6. What are some of the most exciting startups in the city now?

7. What does Chicago need to further enhance the tech community’s growth in the city?

8. Why should a company launch in Chicago instead of Wisconsin or Indiana?

Next week I will be publishing the candidate’s responses or, (if they do not have the time to address our community), lack of a response.

Stay tuned, Chicago Tech- let’s see how the new Mayor will lead (or not).

Results next week.