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Penny Pritzker on how Chicago is enticing top tier tech talent amid labor crunch

Penny Pritzker, Former Commerce Secretary joins the Yahoo Finance live panel to discuss P33’s kick-off of the ‘Come Back to Move Forward’ campaign to recruit and retain 10,000 diverse tech professionals to Chicago over the next two years.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Big news out of s the city is making a big push to draw back tech talent. The nonprofit P33 teaming up with World Business Chicago and tech employers like CDW, Google, and Microsoft with a goal to recruit and retain 10,000 tech professionals over the next two years. Teams launching a campaign that specifically targets tech workers in other cities that have ties back to Chicagoland.

And joining us now for more on that is P33's Co-chair, Penny Pritzker, also former Secretary of Commerce, and Founder, and Chairwoman of PSP Partners. Appreciate you taking the time here to chat. I mean, you were born in Chicago, your brother is governor of Illinois. I don't think we can get more of a Chicago powerbroker here to talk about this push. But why so important for Chicago to draw back tech workers right now?

PENNY PRITZKER: Look, Chicago has been exporting to much of its tech talent to the coasts for too long, and we have an extraordinarily vibrant tech ecosystem here that we need to promote so people are aware of the fabulous things happening. And so 50 Chicago companies have come together, ranging from younger software companies like OCN, to Narrative Science, and Amount, and 4 Kites, to stalwarts like Allstate, and Caterpillar, and CDW, and Motorola, and Google, and Microsoft to attract-- our goal is to attract 10,000 mid-career technologists back to the city because of the extraordinarily exciting activities that are going on here. And so we've launched a pilot-- Come Back to Move Forward-- targeting 10,000 tech professionals on social media and other digital platforms to make them aware of all the exciting things that are happening here-- things in AI, quantum, electric vehicles.

AKIKO FUJITA: How significant has the brain drain then, and what do you think has contributed to that?

PENNY PRITZKER: We have about-- you know, Illinois trains-- frankly, University of Illinois trains more technologists than MIT, Stanford, and Caltech combined. And about half of them leave the state for other opportunities. And I think the challenge is the lack of awareness of what's happening here in Chicago and in our greater region.

If you think about our companies, we have enormous growth. For example, just in the last several months, we have Lion Electric which announced the largest US manufacturing facility for all electric medium and heavy duty vehicles. We have Amount, which is a local fintech startup that raised $100 million at a $1 billion valuation. We have Active Campaign which just raised $240 million in a series C valued at $3 billion.

You know, and they serve over 140,000 businesses in 170 countries. So we have an enormously vibrant technology community. And I just think there's a lack of awareness about that. And so we're reaching out to folks to make sure that they understand what the opportunities are here.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah. I mean, as a Naperville boy, you don't get to tell me Chicago is a great place-- I love what they have over there. When you talk about maybe targeting of the tech workers themselves or the campaign like this, how are you stressing it to the workers? Because, obviously, they have to move-- what kind of incentives, outside of the fact there are companies there, already tech, established companies? Outside of that, how are you really bringing the message to the workers to say, look, now's the time to come back to Chicago?

PENNY PRITZKER: Well, I think one of the reasons-- one of the big arguments is lifestyle and cost of living. In other words, we're a city that's for the last four years by Conde Nast voted the most livable city in the United States. And so we've got, you know, so much to offer in terms of food, theater, music. And cost of living is a big attraction, as well as really vibrant opportunity to work in the most cutting edge technologies.

You know, biotech is another big area that we're very active in Chicago and in the Greater Chicago region. So I think, you know, part of it is the work opportunity, the fact that you cannot-- you know, you could start at one business and move to another. The other is the cost of living. The third is the quality of life. Having raised my family here, I can tell you it's a great place to raise a family. So you know, it's the combination of all those things is what we're pointing out to folks.

AKIKO FUJITA: To follow up on Zack's point, though, how aggressive do you think the incentives need to be to get those workers back? And how closely are you working with the local government to maybe act on some policies that are necessary?

PENNY PRITZKER: Well, World Business Chicago is closely affiliated with the city of Chicago. So we're working hand in glove with the city. The state is working hand in glove with us as well in order to attract both businesses and workers here to the state. So it's a collective effort.

This is not something we're doing alone. But the most important thing is you need to have the employers right there with us. And that's where we're leading is with the employers, because that's where the opportunity lies is if I move, am I moving to something that actually exists? And that's why we have our 50 leading companies that are the tip of the spear for this effort.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, I mean, we're also talking about you being Chicago through and through-- an early President Obama donor, supporter, endorsed Joe Biden, of course. I'm curious to just get your take maybe on what you see as the biggest difference over the years from maybe Veep Joe Biden to President Joe Biden. I know it's early, on but maybe as you've looked at that, what's your take on how he's different.

PENNY PRITZKER: Well, I think President Biden is authentically himself. He's a really decent individual. He's a man who's quite knowledgeable. He's working really hard to bring, you know, infrastructure to this country, infrastructure spending support for workforce, support for innovation. We need that kind of policy in our country in order to remain competitive.

You know, as you said, I've doubled down on Chicago since I moved back from Washington. You know, I started P33 with the idea of, how do we make Chicago a tier one tech hub? I've launched the Pritzker Tech Talent labs at the University of Illinois to train thousands of diverse workers in technology. I founded Skills for Chicagoland's Future, which has helped place more-- train and place more than 9,000 workers in skilled jobs around our city.

And you know, I'm just passionate about our city and our region. And I think that there's an enormous opportunity here for folks who are trying to get the word out with our pilot, Come Back to Move Forward.

ZACK GUZMAN: Well, I appreciate you coming on here to share the update there. And as a long time, as I said, Naperville boy and deep dish supporter, I look forward to seeing that campaign's emails in my inbox. But I appreciate you taking the time. Penny Pritzker, former Commerce Secretary, PSP Partners Founder and Chairman, thanks again.