Mayor Rahm Emanuel welcomed Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer like a friend at an early morning technology event and told the crowd of entrepreneurs and software developers how proud he is of the city's partnership with the corporate titan.
"I want everyone to know how important Microsoft has been to the city of Chicago. The city of Chicago has put its money where its mouth is, in the sense that Microsoft is now running our entire cloud system," Emanuel said at last week's Merchandise Mart event.
The company is also giving back to the city, the mayor said: "They run 12 parent-engagement centers at schools so parents actually have a full technology education."
The mayor's concise explanation of the mutually beneficial arrangement between the city and the software giant is the latest example of Emanuel locking arms with the corporate world in relationships where financial, political and civic interests are intertwined.
Whether it's putting more grocery stores in poor neighborhoods, paying to host world leaders at the NATO conference or raising $50 million to help tackle the city's stubborn homicide rate, Emanuel regularly places business leaders at the center of his plans to fix Chicago.
In return, CEOs and entrepreneurs are treated to a mayor seeking to elevate Chicago's business-friendly image to new heights, sometimes by sheer force of personality.
Emanuel has turned what might otherwise be routine business expansions into public events worthy of celebration. He shows up at company headquarters, congratulates owners on agreements with union workers and puts their company's logo next to the city's official seal atop announcements.
The mayor, who shares many of the attributes of hard-driving CEOs and made millions in a brief stint as an investment banker, walks seamlessly between the worlds of government and business. The interplay of commercial and civic aspirations, so clearly on display at the Microsoft event, are hallmarks of an administration that uses Emanuel's national clout to position Chicago as a global city.
Many of the companies Emanuel touts are finding Chicago to be an inviting place to do business.
Early last year, Emanuel announced that Microsoft was one of five tech companies providing curriculum help and mentoring at science-oriented public high schools. Later in the year he announced that Microsoft would help pay for equipment to help parents improve their computer skills.
In January the city announced a $3.7 million, four-year deal with Microsoft to move 30,000 employees' email and desktop applications to Microsoft cloud computing, a step city officials say will trim costs by $400,000 a year. Ballmer cited the deal during his remarks, while also talking up Microsoft products.
"It couldn't be a better time, I think, to start companies, and it certainly doesn't seem like you could have a better place to get started than 1871," Ballmer said, referring to the tech startup center at the Merchandise Mart.
Homegrown Fortune 500 companies have developed similar relationships with Emanuel.
Deerfield-based Walgreen Co. has repeatedly won praise from the mayor for stepping up to solve city problems -- from agreeing to put more stores in so-called food deserts to offering reward cards worth $25 to parents who pick up their children's school report cards. At the end of 2012, Walgreen received an exclusive no-bid contract to provide wellness screenings for thousands of city of Chicago workers.
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