P33: A Burnham Plan for Chicago’s Tech Future

For the past six months, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and serial tech entrepreneur Chris Gladwin have been working on a plan to elevate Chicago to the top tier of technology-driven cities.

Now the initiative called “P33” – a plan for what Chicago could be in 2033 – is being presented to the public for the first time. It is the work of some 200 business leaders, entrepreneurs, educators and technology experts aiming to create a Burnham Plan for tech – a blueprint to turn Chicago into one of the world’s leading technology hubs.

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Gladwin founded the data storage company Cleversafe in 2004 which was subsequently sold to IBM for $1.3 billion. He is now co-founder and CEO of data analytics company Ocient.

“Our goal here is to enable the city to become a clear, top-tier tech city,” Gladwin said. “To get there it’s a big project and it’s going to take a long time and that’s part of where the P33 name comes from, we are looking at a 15-year timeframe to really realize something like this.”

Attracting tech talent is critical to that goal.

“There’s no way you are going to get there without the people part of it so that’s the main thing we are really focusing on,” he said.

One of the problems in attracting talent is that many people within the tech community don’t see Chicago as a leading tech center.

“Chicago underperforms in terms of how people outside of Chicago think of Chicago,” Gladwin said. “There’s just a lot of great things we already have here. It’s the most educated big city in the United States – the percentage of people who are college graduates living in Chicago is 40 percent – the highest of any big city. It has the highest venture capital returns of any city in the United States. These are things that would be shocking to people that live outside of Chicago in the tech communities of other cities. We are underperforming and a clear thing that we have to address is how to get the perception of Chicago closer to the reality.”

Although the P33 initiative is in its early stages, one thing they have already learned from looking at leading tech centers is that there is no one template for success.

“That tells us we have to do this the Chicago way,” Gladwin said.

He notes that one of Chicago’s biggest assets is the diversity of its economy of which the tech sector now makes up around 10 percent.

“We think there is an opportunity in Chicago for that other 90 percent (of the economy) also to be a technology leader,” he said. “And the reason why that is important is that for the first time ever success in other industries outside of technology-focused businesses is also driven by technology – particularly information technology. And so one of the things we are working on with this initiative is how we can get that community to be a leader in information technology as well. That is going to be part of the Chicago way of being a technology leader.”

And if the P33 initiative is able to achieve that goal it could transform the local economy.

“It would have a huge impact,” Gladwin said. “Most of the economic growth in the United States in the last couple of decades has been driven by information technology and technology in general. Not only that, the typical tech jobs are the type of jobs that create other jobs – for something like every new tech job it creates three other jobs. It’s got a leverage effect so I think it would be a profoundly positive impact.”

Gladwin joins Phil Ponce to discuss the P33 initiative and his vision for Chicago’s tech future.

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