City task force releases roadmap to economic recovery from coronavirus pandemic

The 105-page report has 17 broad-brush recommendations and many specific suggestions to confront challenges Chicago faces in coming back from COVID-19 and the civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd.

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Sam Skinner, co-chair of the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, discusses the task force’s final report, titled “Forward Together, Building a Stronger Chicago.” The report was unveiled Thursday at the South Shore Cultural Center.

Sam Skinner, co-chair of the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, discusses the task force’s final report, titled “Forward Together, Building a Stronger Chicago.” Mayor Lori Lightfoot (left) also was there Thursday as the report was unveiled at the South Shore Cultural Center.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot vowed Thursday to lead a “second Chicago renaissance” — by following a roadmap to recovery from the economic devastation created by the coronavirus pandemic and the stay-at-home shutdown it triggered.

Lightfoot said the pandemic and the systemic vulnerabilities that forced Black and Hispanic Chicagoans to bear the brunt of it provide a “once in a generation opportunity” to create a “new economic model based on dynamic, inclusive growth.”

She promised to seize that opportunity by following the blueprint she proudly unveiled during a highly-orchestrated news conference — complete with videos — fit for a task force with more than 200 members and contributors.

“If we do this right — and I’m committed to making sure that we do — this will be the kind of transformation that, generations from now, we’ll be talking about as the second Chicago renaissance. … If we do this right, people are gonna be coming to Chicago to say, `What happened? How did the Chicago renaissance start?’” the mayor said.

“There is a great hunger and need for investment. There is a great hunger and need for healing. What this task force report does very well is meld those two aspects to make sure that we are building healthy and vibrant communities that … can unleash the potential that has been suppressed for way too long because we focused almost exclusively on the downtown.”

Sam Skinner is the Lightfoot friend who co-chaired the COVID-19 Recovery Task Force. He called the report a “labor of love” and the roadmap for a “seminal” moment in Chicago history.

“We now know what our challenges are. We now know they’re huge. We now know that we’ve got a battle plan. Now, it’s up to us to implement it,” said Skinner, who served as White House chief of staff and U.S. transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

“I look at this as an opportunity because times are changing. This is giving us an opportunity to figure out how they’re changing and what we’re gonna do to be part of the change and become the No. 1 city in the world to come back from this with a plan.”

The 105-page report that Lightfoot vowed would “not be relegated to a shelf” is titled “Forward Together, Building a Stronger Chicago.” The cover photo perspective — taken from a neighborhood, with downtown in the distance, was intentional, she said.

Eleven weeks in the making, the report includes 17 broad-brush recommendations and many more specific suggestions to confront the challenges Chicago faces if it hopes to roar back from the pandemic and the civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd.

Many of those challenges — like unequal access to jobs, health care and healthy food options — existed long before the current crisis. The pandemic simply exposed Chicago’s ugly underbelly — and even made it worse.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot insisted the recommendations outlined in the report produced by the COVID-19 Recovery Task Force will actually be followed, not just gather dust on a shelf.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot insisted the recommendations outlined in the report produced by the COVID-19 Recovery Task Force will actually be followed, not just gather dust on a shelf.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Some recommendations include:

• A public-private venture fund for local entrepreneurs.

• A portable benefits program for gig workers.

• Subsidized child care.

• A 211 line for mental health emergencies.

• A wage and standards board to establish a workers’ bill of rights.

• Making city incentives “conditional on corporations meeting standards for localized hiring and procurement.”

• Creating a “health check-off,” likened to theZagat restaurant guide, providing attractions and businesses a “set of standards” to meet so patrons feel safe. Lightfoot called Chicago’s current average of 200 new coronavirus cases per day a “selling point for us.”

• Luring “hybrid” conventions that are a mix of remote and in-person events, and also using “multi-year subsidies” to lock in commitments. The mayor called hybrid conventions the “new normal” until there’s a vaccine, noting that, by April 20, Chicago already had lost nearly $900 million “from canceled events alone.”

• Dedicating resources to address recovery in a way that is “equitable and not uniform across Chicago” because the “impact of COVID-19 is not uniform across the city.”

• Holding another youth summit or engaging in “ongoing conversations” with young people “given the intense and historic protests, rioting and looting that Chicago and so many other cities experienced” after the death of George Floyd.

The broader recommendations for addressing “new and old traumas” include: create the most advanced healing centered region in the country; increase access to mental and emotional health resources and services in communities, and create a culturally-sensitive, diverse mental health workforce.

To expand economic opportunity, quality employment and financial security, the report advises the city to: re-imagine the region’s workforce infrastructure and create a plan to invest in displaced and young workers; increase ownership in employment for Black and Brown residents in the region’s contracting and construction industry; create the most vibrant small business and Black- and Brown-owned business community in America; and expand relief programs and try out innovative approaches to improve and strengthen the social safety net.

To build on the region’s strengths and seize new opportunities created by COVID-19, Lightfoot was advised to: expand the transportation, distribution and logistics sector by “leveraging new trends in the localization of supply chains”; strengthen Chicago’s health care and life-sciences eco-system and build on the region’s assets in food and agriculture and historic strength in manufacturing; prepare the region to “capture HQ2’s and corporate development and specialty centers” and capture more film and TV production.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other members of the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force gathered Thursday at the South Shore Cultural Center for the official release of the task force report.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other members of the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force gathered Thursday at the South Shore Cultural Center for the official release of the task force report.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

To rebuild a convention and tourism industry devastated by the pandemic, the report suggests the mayor: introduce “Chicago’s master brand”; lead the re-imagination of regional tourism, travel and hospitality; develop new and existing neighborhood hubs to encourage tourism in neighborhoods; and “show the world Chicago is open for business.”

Lightfoot commissioned the study in late April while standing outside the Old Water Tower that survived the Great Chicago Fire. She unveiled it Thursday at the South Shore Cultural Center, another Chicago icon.

The mayor was asked how Chicago can afford the laundry list of recommendations at a time when the coronavirus has blown a $700 million hole in her precariously-balanced 2020 budget.

“We’re in a moment in our civic life where lots of people are stepping up and saying, ‘Mayor, how can I help?’ This has got to be a public-private partnership. But we believe, particularly in tough economic times, that governments at all levels should act as a stimulus,” Lightfoot said.

“We have no choice but to make these investments if we want to grow our economy. If we want to create a ready, willing and able workforce. And if we want to create an environment where people feel like their … livelihoods can be in Chicago. If we neglect them in this moment … our region will be the poorer for it. We cannot afford not to make these types of targeted strategic investments.”

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