The demise of Sears and its suburban headquarters, once famously downtown in a building that was the tallest in the world, does not mean that suburban jobs are disappearing:
Sears’ move to northwest suburban Hoffman Estates symbolized a trend: The economic ascendance of Chicago’s suburbs, which even in the early 1990s accounted for more than 60 percent of the region’s jobs.
At first glance, that dominance appears to be slipping as companies like McDonald’s make headline-grabbing moves back to the city from leafy suburban campuses.
But it would be wrong to point to Sears’ latest struggles, which eased Wednesday when the company’s chairman won a bankruptcy auction that prevented a liquidation of Sears, and conclude that the suburbs are down and out.
People working in the suburbs still provide two out of every three Chicago-area jobs, according to data provided by regional planners.
While the emphasis of this article is on the suburban Sears campus, the suburban jobs numbers stuck out to me. There are (at least) two ways to interpret the number that two-thirds of the jobs in the Chicago region are in the suburbs:
- Of course the majority of jobs in the Chicago region are in the suburbs: more than two-thirds of the region’s population lives in the suburbs. All those residents both help generate nearby jobs with their various consumer needs (from retail to food to building and construction) and help fill those jobs.
- This is a surprising figure. Chicago is a leading global city; how could so many jobs be in the suburbs when what really matters in the region is the strength of the Loop and nearby neighborhoods? Plus, it would be better if employers started in the city or moved back to the city to help create a strong base for the region as well as take advantage of the city’s economies of scale (including mass transit access) and cultural opportunities.
These figures are part of a larger trend that I think is underappreciated in the rise of American suburbs: the suburbs are jobs centers, not just a collection of bedroom communities. While the stereotypical American suburb is a community of subdivisions with occasional businesses, the suburbs are full of companies and firms doing all sorts of things. And it has been this way for decades.