Yelp opens in Merchandise Mart; office is its first in Midwest

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at Thursday’s opening of Yelp’s new Midwest office in the Merchandise Mart. | Esther Castillejo/For the Sun-Times

Last year, Yelp announced it would open a Chicago office and employ 300 people.

By the time Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut the ribbon Thursday to officially open Yelp’s first Midwest office, that commitment had grown to 400. That office is on the fourth floor of the Merchandise Mart.

“This is an iconic building and it’s a testament to Chicago’s past, but with 1871 here, Yelp here, with also Motorola upstairs, we’re reinventing the future,” said the mayor, mentioning other innovation and technology companies that have moved to the building.

Yelp, an online business review company, is expected to hit that 400-employee target in the next 12 to 18 months, according to a press release distributed by the mayor’s office.

“I’m excited because this is much bigger than what we initially thought,” the mayor said. “When a CEO finally says ‘OK, we’ll open up an office, we’ll take it as a pilot and that means 400 jobs coming to the city of Chicago, I like a lot of pilots like that.”

Chicago was a “perfect home” for Yelp’s only Midwest office, said the company’s co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman.

“Chicago is a vibrant town that prides itself on local businesses and the talent of its people,” said Stoppelman. “We chose Chicago to tap into the city’s extensive talent pipeline.”

To do that, Yelp is partnering with Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, a public-private partnership that matches job-seekers with companies that are hiring. SCF works primarily with unemployed and underemployed Chicagoans; it will be in charge of screening candidates and submitting applications to Yelp for review.

“This city is about great jobs, great places to work and great places to give everybody a chance at a job,” said Marie Trzupek Lynch, SCF’s president and CEO.

Partnerships, new companies and investment in education and public transportation “ensures that Chicago has a future that it didn’t have four or five years ago,” said Emanuel, who is in a tight mayoral race; he faces Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in an April 7 runoff election. “We need to do the hard things, the necessary things to build [a bright future].”

Yelp, founded in 2004, has offices in 29 countries. Chicago’s new hires will join more than 3,000 Yelp employees worldwide, Stoppelman said.

The open-concept Chicago office, which Stoppelman said is one of the company’s most historic offices, has a training room, a cafeteria and a “genius bar” modeled after Apple’s.

“[The office] is really about making Yelp a household name when it comes to reviews and really to encourage people to connect with great local businesses,” said Nicole Warshauer, Yelp’s regional community manager. “Having the office in Merchandise Mart is really important and is kind of speaking to that, making sure we are well-connected and supporting the city.”

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