3-6-07 Staff mug Mark Brown. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times
Updated: September 15, 2012 6:19AM
If you were only to follow the news releases coming out of City Hall, you’d think Chicago has done nothing but add jobs in the year-plus now since Rahm Emanuel became mayor.
Nearly every week, the mayor announces this company or that will be expanding its Chicago headquarters or moving downtown from the suburbs, a study drumbeat of good news that reached a crescendo late last month when he and Motorola Mobility CEO Dennis Woodside revealed the tech giant would be moving 3,000 employees into the Merchandise Mart next summer.
It’s all added up to create precisely the perception that the mayor has sought — of a city economic climate on the uptick because of his contacts, energy and leadership.
And that’s precisely why Emanuel looked so foolish Monday when Motorola-parent Google announced it would be cutting 4,000 jobs in its wireless phone business — 750 of them from Motorola Mobility’s local operations.
Sure, just as the mayor says, that still means the city will get 2,250 jobs it doesn’t have now, jobs that could have made an exodus to California. That’s no small victory.
But the company’s bad news hit squarely at the one-sided jobs math the mayor has been pushing since his first days in office.
Having often taken bows for corporate decisions in which City Hall played no role, Emanuel is now being bitten on the backside by his own incessant spin and messaging.
The mayor has claimed credit for job gains as small as 100 that are promised as far off in the future as 2015. Emanuel, therefore, can hardly shrug off the impact of losing 750 jobs that he’s been telling us for two weeks were on their way.
In an interview with our Fran Spielman, the mayor denied any embarrassment from Motorola’s job cuts, and I don’t doubt that for a minute.
The mayor says he even knew Google was “going to reposition the company” before the July 26 announcement that Motorola Mobility was moving here from Libertyville — repositioning being corporate speak for cutbacks and layoffs among other things.
If Emanuel knew, then you have to wonder why he and Motorola’s Woodside weren’t more careful about bandying about the 3,000 number.
Could it be because the mayor has gotten used to putting all his job gain claims out there without anybody being in a position to adequately follow up later to check the veracity? In this case, it was a required disclosure to the SEC that watered down the previous good news.
Notably, the number of employees to be relocated was not mentioned in the news releases issued by either the city or Motorola at the original announcement, an indication that maybe somebody at least suspected all 3,000 of those Libertyville workers weren’t really going to be invited downtown.
It was Woodside who cited the 3,000 jobs in the Q & A session with reporters that day, and Emanuel has been repeating it ever since to make the claim that Chicago is becoming a technology hub.
Look, landing Motorola to a 15-year lease downtown is great for the city, even if it’s only raiding the suburbs with no net gain to the region. If he’d made the announcement about the move next week and just took credit for 2,250 jobs, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I’m not losing sight of that.
The city has been on the losing side of the equation often enough in recent decades for us to appreciate any job movement in our direction. And I hope this move creates the kind of excitement the mayor is predicting and that other employers follow suit.
But the mayor has been whipsawed by his own public relations game that pretends jobs only are only flowing into Chicago and not out.
The rest of us can’t ignore another set of job numbers, notices of impending layoffs by Chicago employers as reported to the state of Illinois in the last few months:
Midwest Generation, 210 jobs; Cision U.S., 52 jobs; Stock Yards Packing Co., 95 jobs; Best Buy, 82 jobs.
Those only tell part of the story, just as do the mayor’s announcements.