(Bloomberg) -- Chicago business leaders are pledging money and jobs to address rising crime, a plan aimed at reviving the city and bringing workers back to its hollowed-out downtown.
A group that includes senior executives from McDonald’s Corp., Ulta Beauty Inc. and Morningstar Inc. will raise money to build up violence-intervention programs and hire more people from underinvested communities. Their goal: cutting Chicago’s murders in half and shootings by more than 40% over the next five years.
The plan by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago comes two weeks after the inauguration of progressive Mayor Brandon Johnson. He was the only candidate who refused to pledge to restaff the police, arguing that the city needed to get smarter about crime, not tougher.
“It’s really important for this mayor to be successful, and the business community wants to partner and help make that happen,” said Derek Douglas, president of the civic group, who also served on the White House Domestic Policy Council during the Obama administration. “We believe this issue of public safety is actually one where there’s a lot of common ground.”
Chicago has faced a surge in crime that’s outraged residents and businesses. Billionaire Ken Griffin cited violence as a reasons for moving his Citadel hedge fund to Miami, while Terry Duffy, the chief executive officer of exchange giant CME Group Inc., opened up earlier this year about his wife being carjacked in broad daylight.
Crime incidents in Chicago jumped 41% last year from 2021, and are up another 42% this year through May 28. Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend alone, 53 people were shot — 12 of them fatally.
Crime concerns are contributing to Chicago’s slow recovery from the pandemic as workers stay away from the downtown, known as the Loop. The city’s office-vacancy rate reached a record 22.4% in the first quarter.
Read more: Chicago’s Empty Towers Threaten Future of Trading Empire
“Everybody wants the whole Chicagoland area to be safer,” said Jim Crown, chair of the civic group’s public-safety task force and president of Henry Crown & Co., the investment vehicle of one of Chicago’s richest families. “That will make it easier and more sensible to tell people ‘Yes, they do need to show up for work, three, four or five days a week.’”
Jason Lee, a senior adviser for Johnson, said the business community has already stepped up “in a big way,” without naming specific companies. Last week, a partnership of more than 50 foundations and private funders said it will provide $2.5 million in grants aimed at violence prevention and youth-outreach programs in Chicago.
“Everybody who cares about this city should have goals and aspirations for a better, stronger, safer Chicago,” Lee said, adding that the administration looks forward to working with the Civic Committee.
The Civic Committee carried out research over the past six months and spoke to more than 30 stakeholders in the process of developing its plan, Douglas said. That includes the Chicago CRED, an anti-gun violence nonprofit founded by Arne Duncan, a Chicago native and former US education secretary.
At an event at the City Club of Chicago last month, Duncan said corporate leaders have started to step in more to tackle crime.
“For too long they were on the sidelines, they weren’t engaged, but they are now engaged,” he said. “Every indication I have is they know we didn’t get here overnight. So it will take years to do it and they’ve got to stay at the table.”
The civic group also has pledged to hire alumni of violence intervention programs, enhance policing and criminal justice reforms and invest directly in the more economically-challenged communities.
“We would be very pleased if we could build to a place where we’re adding 2,000 plus people annually to the employment rolls that are coming from these dangerous communities, these troubled neighborhoods, and invite people into the world of employment and the legal economy,” Crown said.
--With assistance from Alex Tanzi and Shruti Date Singh.
(Adds quote in the last paragraph)
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.