Annual Meeting Remarks by Jack Lavin, President and CEO

Published on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Good morning. Thank you all for being here. I’m looking forward to a great morning and am especially grateful to our keynote speaker, Becky Frankiewicz, President of ManPower Group North America, and Mayor Lightfoot for joining us today.

The future is now. Our workplaces are rapidly changing and how you conduct business is evolving faster than ever before. The Chamber is proud to be your partner, with an eye always on the horizon, anticipating your needs and the opportunities that await you.

Our 115th meeting is historic and comes at a time of great excitement and change in our city.

In 1904, one thousand business owners and civic leaders gathered together at the old Grand Pacific Hotel for the first meeting of the Chicago Commercial Association, our predecessor organization.

Mayor Lightfoot, you may be interested to know that Mayor Harrison spoke at that first meeting with a speech entitled “Chicago – The Present and the Future.

This new Association had a dual focus: increase membership to include all industries – united for the first time – and; to promote Chicago as The Great Central Market.

Around the country, other cities were saying that Chicago merchants were unorganized and could not get along.  Members of the new Association quickly came together to prove the country and the world wrong, because they knew what all of us in this room know today –that there are great advantages of doing business in Chicago, in part because our businesses are united.

As a business community, we must continue to come together to demonstrate Chicago’s strength. We must ensure a vibrant, healthy business climate to grow our regional economy. We must be bold and innovative and work with our elected officials to do the same to accomplish big things. The Chamber and today’s meeting demonstrate that strength and unity.

Our three priority pillars of Thought Leadership, Advocacy, and Networking are more relevant and needed today than ever before, and they have all been taken to a new level this past year. 

Thought Leadership

A full 90% of our members tell us that access to talent is a key priority and concern for them.

We hear you and we developed programs to help you meet your talent needs.

We partnered with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Illinois BIS to provide workforce training for our members, enabling your employees to acquire new skills. We’re thrilled that we’ll be able to continue this vital training thanks to a grant from DCEO.

We also recently launched the Chicago Opportunity Exchange hiring platform, with support from JPMorgan Chase, to reduce unconscious bias during the recruiting process.

We didn’t just create new programs this past year. We reimagined our existing ones, too. With generous support and input from our partners at BDO, BMO Harris Bank, Aon, DLA Piper, and Colliers International, we focused our Mid-Market Chicago program on aspects of talent attraction and retention that are unique to this segment of the business community.

We launched our Healthcare Council, chaired by Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and our Technology Council, chaired by HERE Technologies, to deliver timely content that is driven by our members.

Looking ahead, we are developing an apprenticeship program, collaborating with partners like City Colleges of Chicago, the State of Illinois, and the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, to bring resources and talent to middle-market companies, and jobs and employment to those eager to work and learn.

We also must acknowledge the important role we as a business community play in solving the greatest challenges that face our city.  A great example of this is Eileen Mitchell’s AT&T Believe Chicago employee initiative. We look forward to working with AT&T to bring our partners in business and in government together to expand and amplify the impact of this program in Chicago’s most underserved neighborhoods.

We know the difference our business community can have as a partner in tackling our biggest challenges and how - together and united - we can ensure hope is felt and economic opportunity is realized in every corner of our city and region. We look forward to working with our members and Mayor Lightfoot’s administration to do just that.

Advocacy

With new leadership at every level of government, the Chamber’s united, independent voice is needed now more than ever.

Over the past year, we held candidate forums for our gubernatorial and mayoral elections where we reinforced to the candidates the need and desire for business to be at the table. I’m proud that the Chamber endorsed Mayor Lightfoot and we look forward to working with her and her administration to advance the needs of our business community. I also served on both Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot’s transition teams, bringing your perspective to the table to shape important policies that will directly impact our members.

As the largest, independent voice for business, our advocacy priorities are driven by your needs to secure the region’s long-term economic prospects.

This past year we had major victories for our members in Springfield and in Chicago. I want to highlight just a few of these:

To ensure our workforce has the skills for today and tomorrow’s job market, we secured a $1.5 million grant to provide valuable trainings to our members’ employees, for the second year in a row.

We were an outspoken advocate on the state’s historic capital bill and infrastructure plan. We advocated strongly for increased and sustainable funding for mass transit, as well as increased funding for rail, roads, and bridges.

We created coalitions to advance job creation legislation like data center tax incentives that will bring billions of dollars in investment and jobs to the region and state.

We ensured the business voice was at the table and heard for important issues like data privacy, common sense property tax reform, and restrictive workplace scheduling – and, we’ll continue to do so.

We championed transportation-focused developments like One Central in Chicago’s South Loop because we know that mobility means opportunity for all.  It is critical for our neighborhoods to be connected by transit to downtown to ensure every person has economic opportunity and access to jobs. This development will connect the South Side neighborhoods to the lakefront cultural institutions and the downtown central business district. One Central, a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership for our state, will bring billions of dollars of investment and tens of thousands of jobs to Chicago as well as much-needed revenue to address our state pension problem. There is more work to be done, but this is a first step.

We know that when our central business district does well, our neighborhoods do well. And when our neighborhoods do well, downtown does well. The Chamber will continue to be the strongest voice and advocate for the business community to bring a balanced approach to ensure our region continues to thrive.

Networking

Our enhanced programming and increased advocacy have led to one of our best new member recruitment years in recent memory. And, we aren’t slowing down. In fact, our first 5 months of this year have resulted in more new members joining the Chamber than any of the previous four years.

Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than hearing from our members that they have been able to grow their business and achieve their goals because of a connection to the Chamber. Our team works to create personalized, thoughtful connections and develop opportunities to showcase your business success and expertise. In the next year you can look forward to more opportunities to network and spotlight your business.

Conclusion

In 1914, ten years into the Chicago Commercial Association’s incorporation, the President at the time spoke to members and civic leaders gathered together. He reinforced to the members that the association represents the interests of the entire community – it favors no section of the city and no division of citizenship – it is FOR CHICAGO.

Today, we renew our pledge to work with each of you to continue to be bold and innovative. To advocate for and be at the forefront of the issues that matter to you. To support all of Chicago – each of our neighborhoods and every corner of our region – because, the Chamber is FOR CHICAGO.

We now number more than one thousand members and every three days the Chamber is hosting an event, networking opportunity, or program to help your businesses succeed and grow.

And, while our name has changed throughout the decades – including an early attempt to become known as the Chicago “I Will” Association – and our programming has evolved to meet the needs of today’s businesses and anticipate your needs of tomorrow –the founding principles that guided our organization’s forebearers are just as relevant today: To bring all industries together and stand united to create the best economic climate and promote Chicago – and all of our neighborhoods and communities - as the greatest place to live and work.

The Chamber is your voice – united to show the strength of our businesses, and independent to ensure business has a seat at the table when decisions are made. In fact, we not only have a seat at the table, we are often the ones setting the table.

There is no greater time to deepen and expand your partnership with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, because – The Future Is Now.

Thank you.

Categories: Chamber News

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