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Uber spending big in Chicago despite billion-dollar losses

The company plans to add 2,000 jobs at its Uber Freight headquarters in the Old Main Post Office.

Uber Technologies CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, center, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Lior Ron, head of Uber Freight, announced the opening of Uber Freight headquarters in the Old Main Post Office building.
Uber Technologies CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, center, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Lior Ron, head of Uber Freight, announced the opening of Uber Freight headquarters in the Old Main Post Office building.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Promising a more than $200 million annual investment in Chicago, the CEO of Uber Technologies said Monday the city will be central to the company’s bold plans to expand in freight.

Dara Khosrowshahi also said despite Uber’s billion-dollar losses, its balance sheet remains strong and the company will have a high profile in Chicago for years.

“While we are investing aggressively in growth and this Chicago investment is part of that, we are very, very confident that the balance sheet that we have, that the cash we have on our books, and our business, are going to be around for a long time. So I have no doubts in our ability to be here for the next five, 10 or the next 20 years,” he said at a news conference in the lobby of the Old Main Post Office, Uber Freight’s future home.

Joined by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other politicians and dignitaries, Uber executives said the expansion shows their respect for the city’s talent and for Chicago’s historical importance to transportation.

All were there to cheer Uber’s vow to hire 2,000 new employees here over the next three years. By early next year, it expects to occupy 463,000 square feet, covering two floors in the vast Old Main Post Office at 433 W. Van Buren St. Its lease covers 10 years.

The space is “big enough to serve as an indoor track for Bears practices,” said Lior Ron, head of Uber Freight. He said the layout is well suited for a fast-growing operation. “We have infinite flexibility in how we’re going to organize the team,” he said.

While the company best known for its ride-sharing app tries to extend its use of independent drivers into the trucking business, it still has to prove itself fit for the long haul. It’s trying that by expanding into markets such as freight and food delivery.

Uber became a publicly traded company in May, collecting about $8.1 billion for its initial public offering. But it lost $5.2 billion in the second quarter of 2019, most of it from stock-related compensation to employees, a one-time cost. That followed a $1 billion loss in the first quarter.

As a result, the shares have plummeted from their $45 offering price. They closed Monday at $32.24, up 38 cents for the day.

The numbers are “not something I’m proud of,” Khosrowshahi said. But with more than $10 billion in cash, the company can invest in growth and technology that will improve results, he said.

“It’s really a testament to the city of Chicago, the greater Chicago area and our belief in the talent here and the fact that we can grow together,” he said.

Uber Freight has about 1,000 employees in Chicago, based at 225 W. Randolph, Ron said. He said they will be moved into the new space.

Gov. J. B. Pritzker, nursing a fractured leg, did not attend the Uber event but tweeted his support for the new jobs: “I’m passionate about transforming our state into a major hub for established technology companies and start-ups, and I am proud to have @UberFreight as an important member [of] our business community — especially as they help to revitalize the Old Main Post Office.”