Building Chicago’s Human Capital

Wednesday 25 June, 2008

This event was the final installment in the Global Edge series sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs The Global Edge: Building Chicago’s Human Capital

Hank Perritt put the series in perspective, noting that cities can’t succeed without successful economies which require abundant quality human capital.

Larry Rothfield, authored the study on Chicago’s music scene, observed today jobs follow talent rather than the reverse. Quality of life attracts/retains creative workers, & they are consumers of the arts. In the music case study, Chicago trails NY & LA in most categories except variety of specific genres & grassroots musical opportunities as reflected by musical myspace.com sites.

Eden Martin walked us through a presentation on the Chicago public school system, which indicated education in Chicago was improving, but maybe not, due to changes in the tests & scoring them. The net observation is we have a long way to go to provide equal opportunity through the Chicago Public Schools.

Cheryle Jackson provided a summary of a report by the Chicago Urban League on The Future Economic Development for African Americans in the Chicago Metropolitan Area: the next 10 years (click on Policy & Research & then special reports), which found them to be untapped human capital. Workforce training @ community colleges would help, as would mapping curriculum to industry needs. Their plight is not a social problem, rather a competitive problem.

Q&A revealed

-we need to train for jobs with growth & know where the opportunities are to provided motivation in addition to changing curriculum

-Chicago shares its problem of public schools with many other large urban areas, but they are problems similar to those of a monopoly & not because of teachers unions

-childhood education needs to be improved to reduce the number of remedial students who are behind

-low hanging musical fruit would simply be to emulate Austin, TX

-charter schools encourage parental involvement in schools, but they are capped by the legislature

My impression is this panel was put together simply to promote a few special interests of the CCGA. Sure the music industry in Chicago can be better promoted & gain greater visibility, & add some economic activity to the city, but it’s not going to add proportionately as much as it does in say Nashville. Obviously, the Chicago public schools are a problem, but the surrounding suburban school districts add a layer of quality that mitigates those problems. Some can propose that Chicago can only be as great as it’s least common denominator, the line the Urban League forwards, but I think they miss the point. When I think of global cities, I think of Amsterdam, Kopenhagen, & Singapore. A few characteristics of the human capital of these cities is that they speak many different languages & are aware of the different histories & cultures of their neighbors & trading partners. To compete in the global economy, you have to engage in it, & the CCGA doesn’t seem to have examined these variables at all & should. They seem very proud of surpassing other midwestern cities like Detroit, Cleveland, & Minneapolis, but miss the point in that I think the basis of comparison is wrong. We now compete with Dubai, Caracas, & Mumbai, so need to make comparisons with them rather than our declining neighbors.


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