Yesterday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stood up next to representatives from Google and announced that the company would be moving the headquarters of Motorola to the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago, away from its current location in Libertyville, Illinois.
To put it simply: this is a pretty big win for Chicago.
Currently, the Merchandise Mart, a historic building in downtown Chicago, is home to an eclectic mix of companies. On the one hand, the Mart has the basic businesses, like retail shops and offices. On the other hand, there are a number of technology companies, startups, an incubator, and plenty of venture capitalists. The mix of furniture stores and programmers gives the building a bit of a weird vibe.
Despite the strange vibe, though, the Mart has the potential to turn into the metaphorical communal watering hole for the technology ecosystem in Chicago.
But despite the fact the building is centrally located in Chicago, it isn’t yet the center of the technology ecosystem in the area. There are startups scattered around the city, without a clear concentration in one location. That could change, though, with the inclusion of Motorola.
The reason this change is such a big deal is that Motorola will bring over 3,000 employees to the building (it’s a big building) with roughly two-thirds of the employees being engineers. This infusion of technical talent will be a boon for the companies in the building.
Imagine founding a startup, and being able to find technical talent to hire only an elevator ride away. Call upstairs, and then have them meet you downstairs in the Starbucks. When you’re done talking, you’re both already back to work. Even in a technically-concentrated place like Silicon Valley where you can hit an engineer by throwing a stone in the air, this would still be nice.
And if you find someone that works for Motorola that you want to hire, but they lack a particular set of technical skills? Well, Code Academy, which we’ve written about previously, is on the premises as well. Need a place to incubate your company? Excelerate Labs, at your service. Need a working space? 1871. Need to talk to some venture capitalists? They are there.
Now, there are two tangentially related facts to this story. The first pertains to Lightbank and Groupon, which are still located about five minutes away from the Mart, and are unlikely to move anytime soon. While it’s a bit of an overreach to say that the distance could hurt either group — it is only five minutes, after all — it is interesting to see that the group of startups surrounding Lightbank and Groupon, including Belly and gTrot, are seemingly segregated from the other nucleus of the Chicago tech scene.
The second related story is that Google still has its own offices in the area, distinct from Motorola. Of course, that could change, as we’ve been hearing rumors that Google is looking into moving into (where else?) the Merchandise Mart. The influx of Google’s branding as well as Motorola’s talent, and the pre-existing technical center may make the Merchandise Mart one of the hottest places in Chicago.
This common meeting place could end up being a boon, with the physical-world interaction spurring all kinds of new ideas, startups, and partnerships. As one person said to us, “maybe we should rename it TechMart.”
[Image courtesy Dave Sizer]