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Chicago Mayor Recruits U of I Students to Boost Economy

The mayor of Chicago says he is determined to grow the city’s technological economy as other cities see that industry booming.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel came to the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus on Tuesday to recruit students. Emanuel spoke at the university’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications, where about 20 years ago the first popular Web browser was developed.

“Lot of mayors say, ‘Oh, I got to have a trade mission. I got to go to China. I got to go to Europe,’ he said. “Now, I’ve only been mayor 18 months. I’m sure I’ll take one of those. I’m the first mayor of the city of Chicago to ever come here. I’ll come here seven times before I’ll go overseas.”

Emanuel had a message for students in the computer science and engineering departments.

“I don’t want you to see what’s going on in Singapore. I don’t want you to see what’s going on in New York, in the Valley,” Emanuel said. “I want you to see what I would call the valley in the alley of Chicago as a place you can take your idea and economize it and monetize it immediately.”

Emanuel took part in a panel discussion with Chicago-area executives representing companies, including BrightTag, Groupon, and GrubHub. They each took questions that were pre-approved, and asked by a moderator.

All of the panelists talked about how Chicago has become a better place for tech companies to start up and thrive. 

“The eco-system for start-ups and for growth companies has gotten a lot better,” GrubHub co-founder and COO Mike Evans said. “There’s a lot of cross pollination of ideas. There’s a lot of mentorship going on. There’s certainly an abundance of jobs within the community that have been created. So, all of those things come together to make a pretty exciting environment.”

U of I Sophomore Cole Gleason, who is studying computer science, attended the panel discussion. Gleason interned at Facebook last summer, and he said he would like to end up in Chicago. However, he does not know if that will be possible.

“Right now it’s mostly finance, and maybe a few tech startups,” Gleason explained. “But the tried and true tech and giant companies – Apple, Microsoft - they are not in Chicago, and I’d be interested to see if Chicago can develop that.”

Nathan Handler, a sophomore atthe  U of I studying computer science, said he is hopeful that the university’s efforts to connect students with Chicago companies will make it easier for him when he graduates in a couple of years. He grew up near Chicago, and wants to end up closer to home.

“I’ve been looking for jobs in the Chicagoland area for a while. I’ve gone to many of the career fairs, and even companies with offices in Chicago were really only looking to hire people for their offices in California or other parts of the country,” Handler said. “I would really prefer to stay local.”

According to the U of I, 16-percent of recent undergraduates studying computer science and computer engineering landed jobs in Chicago, while more than 25-percent of electrical engineering students relocated to the city.

“We are an incredible magnet for recruiters,” said U of I Computer Science Department Head Rob Rutenbar, who moderated the panel discussion. “So, it is no surprise that Facebook, and Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, and LinkedIn; they are literally camping out in our corridors.”

In recent weeks, executives from major companies – like Yahoo! and Square – have also tried to lure U of I students to other parts of the country, but Mayor Emanuel hopes to beat them to the punch.

<em>(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)</em>