In an enormous win for downtown Chicago, Motorola Mobility Inc. is making it official, announcing July 26 that it's moving its headquarters and 3,000 high-tech jobs to the city's Merchandise Mart building.
The job shift is the largest single employment influx for the city in many decades, and perhaps ever. It caps with an exclamation point a recent return of suburban companies back to the central area, in particular the trendy River North neighborhood.
The cellphone and wireless giant confirmed news first reported by Crain's Chicago Business that it will take the top four floors and the roof of the Merchandise Mart, signing a 15-year lease for 600,000 square feet.
Motorola Mobility CEO Dennis Woodside said all headquarters jobs will be moved from suburban Libertyville, Illinois, to Merchandise Mart over the next five quarters or so. The company is looking for an alternate use for its Libertyville space but has made no decisions yet, he said.
The move will cost the company, which recently was acquired by Google Inc., a whopping $300 million in relocation, construction build-out and related lease costs. But Woodside said it's worth it.
"We're competing with the best of Taipei, Seoul . . . and Beijing," he said in an interview in Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office, as the beaming mayor looked on. "In that environment, availability of the best ideas and access to your customers really matters."
The choice wasn't between Chicago and suburban Libertyville, but Chicago and Silicon Valley, Woodside indicated. The firm already has a large office in Northern California.
"This is going to be a mecca for drawing people from the greater Midwest," Emanuel said. River North is becoming "the tech campus for the city."
Motorola will receive no city tax-increment financing or other incentives for the move. The company will keep the state employment tax credits it got under a deal negotiated about a year ago. "It's essentially just an address change," Woodside said.
The 3,000 jobs figure could well grow, he said. Motorola Mobility expects to consolidate some other offices into Merchandise Mart space and add more if it is successful in releasing new products in the fast-changing market for cellphones and other wireless devices.
Both the mayor and Woodside said conversations about the move occurred as early as a year ago, around the time Emanuel took office. Those conversations involved former Motorola Mobility boss Eric Schmidt, whom Emanuel knew from his work in the Obama White House.
The physical move will begin in late winter and be completed by sometime in fall 2013. The space Motorola will get previously housed the now-defunct Art Chicago show, and Woodside said its high ceilings and good views were quite desirable.
Emanuel said the largest job announcements in recent years that he's aware of came when United Airlines moved its operations center to Willis Tower, and when Ford Motor Co. added 1,200 workers at its Far South Side assembly plant.