LIVE BLOG: “Chicago vs. Suburbs: What’s the buzz?” event

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Jones Lang LaSalle’s Fred Schuler is moderating a panel discussion featuring JLL tenant representative Diana Riekse, JLL economic incentives expert Meredith O’Connor, Redbox’s Megan Novak, SPR Companies’ Robert Figliulo and Mark Hirons of the architecture and design firm Canon Design.


8:15 a.m. — Fugliulo on lessons learned in moving his company from the suburbs to the city: “For my employees, the work environment is just as important as compensation and the location is a big part of that. Collaboration is key for us in the workplace environment and we’ve found that in the city.”

8:17 a.m. Novak on opening a Redbox satellite office in downtown Chicago (in addition to the company’s headquarters in Oak Brook): “We started to realize that the top talent we were looking for was in the city. About 25 % of our employees live in the city and our recruiters have found that it’s a lot easier to recruit when we have that option [of a downtown office] for employees one or two days a week.”

8:20 a.m. — Riekse on the reasons why suburban companies are being drawn downtown: “It’s all about labor, especially as it relates to [recruiting] tech workers.  [City-dwelling] Millennials aren’t willing to take a bus to the Metra to a shuttle bus. They want their office to be in the West Loop, in River North and in West Town.”

8:22 a.m. — Riekse on options for space: “If you’re 30,000 square feet or larger, your options in River North or River West are dwindling.”

8:24 a.m. — O’Connor on the perception surrounding government incentives: “Every company in America that’s making an investment or creating jobs is thinking about incentives.  Illinois is one of three states that incentivizes employers that are retaining jobs. I would say that Illinois is very competitive in the incentive world and getting more competitive.”

8:25 a.m. — O’Connor on efforts being made by the city of Chicago to  attract businesses from the suburbs and elsewhere: “There have been 50 announcements regarding more than 25,000 jobs that Mayor Emanuel has touched since he took office.”

8:27 a.m. — O’Connor on the kinds of economic incentives that are most impactful: “On the municipal level, TIF Districts are the most impactful: When I started with mayor Daley, there were 5 TIF districts, now there are 165. But there are also 200 in the suburbs.  On the state level, the EDGE tax credit is the most impactful and you can get it for retained jobs if you have an out-of-state option.”

8:30 a.m. — Hirons on mitigating risk in a move: “The single most important thing is up-front planning and starting with visioning sessions and understanding the team and their needs.”

8:35 a.m. — Figliulo on the change in his office’s culture since moving downtown: “Collaboration has been hightened, our productivity and now there’s a buzz.  When we interview people, they see it, they feel it and it really helps us in hiring.”

8:38 a.m. — Novak on the collaborative  design of her downtown office: “There are a variety of options to move around.  It’s a great environment with an extra opportunity for engagement and collaboration.”

8:40 a.m. — Riekse: “The biggest mistake that I see clients making is not looking five years out.  And then they end up going back, three or four years later just to accomodate their workplace because things are evolving so fast. But no two companies are the same.  You need to know your culture and what’s right for your firm.”

8:42 a.m. — Hirons: “If you don’t understand how peopole work or how you’re going to effectuate improving how they work, it’s going to be a failure.  It’s a 360-degree, wholistic solution.  You need to assess that up front.”

8:45 a.m. — O’Connor on what the city will look like in 5 or 10 years. “I think it has to do with transportation.  They’re opening up a few ‘L’ stops to the west so the whole office ‘downtown’ is moving west.”

8:50 a.m. — Schuler on transporation options in the suburbs: “There are 600,000 people using PACE van pools and shuttle busses, etc. It’s a hidden gem.”

8:52 a.m. — Riekse on the infrastructure of buildings in the suburbs: “The technology infrastructure in the A-quality suburban buildings is there.  In A-class buildings , we don’t find many tenants, really, who are struggling with this. But the same thing isn’t necessarily true in B-class buildings.  A lot of times, they can’t accomodate a modern workplace and, no matter how much they discount their rates, they won’t be able to compete for tenants moving forward. A lot of these buildings may have out-lived their usefulness.”

8:54 a.m. — Riekse: “The biggest issue that all landlords are facing is accomodating parking as employee-per-square-foot ratios are rising. That’s going to continue to be a challenge.”

8:56 a.m. — Riekse on “gloom and doom” scenarios for the suburban office market: “It’s not all bad news. There are plenty of tenants, and a lot of Fortune 500 tenants who are in the suburbs today who don’t have a need to go downtown.  Their labor is fine. People want to move to the suburbs and raise their families there.”

9:02 a.m. — O’Connor: “In 2011, 196 tech companies started in Chicago.  The demand is there. If there was some cool space in the suburbs that had a buzz and had the energy [of some of Chicago’s incubator space], I think it would succeed.”

9:05 a.m. — Schuler on why many large firms (Redbox, Catamaran, Navistar, etc.) have recommitted to the suburbs in recent months: “There are certain kinds of labor that are just more comfortable in the suburbs. It’s all about your workforce and your culture and what works for you.”


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