May 20, 2019
Even as panelists discussed the national and global economic picture, the focus in Connect Chicago’s “Industry Leaders: Economic Outlook & A View from the Top” session was local. In particular, moderator Collete English Dixon and her panelists examined the state and municipal government’s simultaneous role as a catalyst for growth and as an obstacle.
Asked what incoming Mayor Lori Lightfoot needs to make her immediate priority, Habitat Companies President Matt Fiascone responded, “She needs to focus on the reason she was elected,” which was a promise to restore confidence in public service. CIBC Bank USA’s Maria Alexakis said Lightfoot’s focus needs to be on ensuring that Chicago’s growth isn’t compromised.
David Bradley, regional manager of Marcus & Millichap’s Chicago Downtown office, called upon Lightfoot to use the city’s commercial real estate community as a think tank for devising solutions. In the view of Northern Trust senior economist Ryan Boyle, the new mayor’s first priority should be education.
Earlier, during the opening keynote one-on-one interview that began Tuesday’s conference, outgoing Treasurer Kurt Summers noted that Chicago’s economy was outperforming 90% of the nation’s top 25 markets. That being the case, Dixon pointed to looming fiscal concerns.
“We keep coming up with these ‘yes, but’ statements to make us feel better,” Dixon said, before turning the panel’s attention to the challenges that could slow Chicago’s growth.
Alexakis cited the “uncertain political climate,” while Bradley posed the question of how the city’s affordability gap could be addressed given the rate of wage growth. Arguably looming largest, though, is the growing budget shortfall facing both Chicago and Illinois, due largely to unfunded pension obligations.
“The problem is at least well understood,” said Boyle. Noting that “it’s been easy to kick the can,” he said the deficit has been mounting for the past 25 years and will require another 25 to address.
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