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Preckwinkle Takes CRE To Task For Racial Inequity

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle began Bisnow’s Chicago 2020 Forecast event Wednesday with some tough words for the commercial real estate industry. In her keynote address to hundreds gathered in the atrium of GlenStar PropertiesSchaumburg Corporate Center in suburban Schaumburg, she called out the industry for its lack of diversity, noting that the county’s population was 25% Latinx, 24% African American and 8% Asian American.

“Those are not the percentages you see in this audience, which is overwhelmingly white, and that’s a challenge for your industry, and for the entire region,” she said.

Toni Preckwinkle

Preckwinkle said she doesn’t want to see more diversity for its own sake, but for the impact diverse companies can have on Chicagoland, especially when it comes to bridging the gap between its wealthy, thriving areas such as the Central Business District, and moribund parts like the south suburbs.

She pointed out that Chicago has the largest life expectancy gap among the 50 largest U.S. cities, with people in Englewood, a largely African American neighborhood on the South Side, living an average of 60 years, compared to 90 years in affluent Streeterville near downtown.

Such problems help fuel the ongoing exodus of black families from the region, a reversal of the Great Migration, ultimately undercutting its economic strength and political clout.  

“For too long we have seen neighborhoods on the south and west sides of our county stall, while areas to the north and in the heart of the city have thrived,” she said. “But we are one county, and the whole region suffers when communities don’t have the opportunity to thrive.”  

Corporate social responsibility, or how businesses can do good in addition to generating profits, recently became one of the hot topics at real estate conferences, and Preckwinkle said diverse firms will more effectively tackle society’s racial divide, pointing to her own experience running a large government agency.  

Schaumburg Corporate Center

“My senior staff is incredibly diverse, and their unique perspectives and backgrounds bring innovative new ideas, process improvements and connections to the table.”

Those qualities also lead to bigger profits for private businesses, and Preckwinkle cited both the positive experiences of Google and Ariel Investments, run by John Rogers, who leads her council of economic advisers.

“John doesn’t just talk the talk — he hires diverse candidates and embraces diversity at Ariel. He will be the first to tell you how successful that has made his company. So, my recommendation to you is to think about diversity, not as a buzzword, but as a chance to outperform and make your firm more competitive. Hire diverse candidates, mentor those candidates and promote them into leadership positions. By creating and feeding that pipeline, the entire commercial real estate industry will profit.”