Coalition's work to bring in federal money is crucial

December 15, 2003


Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean received Al Gore's endorsement because of the savvy way Dean used the Internet to mobilize supporters. "It's like having 515,000 electronic precinct captains," said Kevin Conlon, state chairman of Dean's Illinois campaign and president of public affairs company Chicago-based Wilhelm & Conlon Public Strategies.

According to Conlon those supporters generated "50,000 letters to Gore" urging him to back Dean.

Senate candidates take note: To win, get online.

Mr. Speaker?

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) left Chicago early last week on an unsuccessful mission to solve a deadlock over the $820 billion Omnibus Spending Bill. The White House asked the speaker to skip a high-profile fund-raiser to benefit the Illinois Coalition. Despite his absence, Illinois' technology leaders turned out at the Chicago Club, raising an estimated $32,000 for the coalition's operations, according to the association's president, John Maxon. Not a bad day when your speaker's a no- show. Rock concert fans would have been storming the stage.

But our town's tech glitterati were exceptionally well behaved. No grumbles about the speaker's absence. The commitment to Illinois technology and economic development sounded serious.

Most Chicagoans are clueless about the coalition. Not a good thing. We locals should pay more attention if this town is going to be in business 15 or 20 years hence.

Formed in 1989, the power players at the coalition -- corporate CEOs, university presidents and entrepreneurs -- quietly work behind the scenes to make sure federal science and technology investments show up in Illinois.

That means funding for places such as Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab, and grants for our local universities. The labs alone employ about 5,400, from clerical employees and maintenance workers to Nobel Prize laureates.

Those jobs are the tip of the iceberg. The inventions coming out of the labs can be an economic elixir for Chicago if we transform them into new products and businesses.

Sound vague? Consider Bill Gates Sr., father of the founder of Microsoft. "Who's the largest venture capitalist in the world?" asked the elder Gates in a recent visit here. His answer: "Uncle Sam."

The point: Without federal investments we'd miss more than the technology millionaires. We'd miss the new jobs their companies create. To replace the manufacturing jobs heading offshore, we'd better start new businesses right here, right now.

Powering the process is federal funding for science and technology. We need more in Illinois. It's a hotly competitive game. That's why the Illinois Coalition is important. Its members fight to bring home the bacon.

Sam Skinner, incoming chair of the coalition, has the pedigree for this slugfest. He's competitive and no stranger to Washington. He served as chief of staff and secretary of transportation for the first President Bush. Thanks to Speaker Hastert and last week's fund-raiser, Skinner and the coalition have a budget to continue their work.

Memo to Gov. Blagojevich: Keep a scorecard in your vest pocket. Track the number of federal dollars the coalition secures for Illinois. Encourage the coalition. A vibrant state economy could assure a second term.

GlobalView nets $5 million

Jon Olson, CEO of Chicago-based GlobalView Software Inc., received an early Christmas present when private equity firm Conning Capital Partners anted up $5 million in a Series B financing. The 45-year-old Olson will use the cash to expand and sell his MarketView software.

Why build a business in Chicago? Same reason Boeing moved here. "Chicago is a great place," said Olson. "It's centrally located and a transportation hub." Makes sense, considering Olson returned my call from Singapore, where he is spending a lot of time.

Listening to Olson, you wonder how could Illinois Sen. Peter Fitzgerald be hostile to O'Hare airport expansion? I guess he wasn't interested in retaining globetrotting tech entrepreneurs.

Will Olson's success mean more jobs for Chicagoans? He's adding staff, but his firm is relatively small,, with only 20 local employees. That could change. Olson's MarketView software helps energy behemoths use the Internet to stay abreast of volatile energy markets.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago- based tech writer and consultant, and senior vice president for Hostway Corp., Chicago.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners