McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski: We’re Investing in Chicago


September 14, 2022

At McDonald’s, we believe our best days are ahead of us – and by working together in partnership, we can ensure the vitality and success of our city for generations to come.

The ties between McDonald’s and the city of Chicago run deep. 

Others may call Chicago the Second City, but for McDonald’s, Chicago has always been first. 

Our founder, Ray Kroc, was a native son of Chicagoland.  He opened our very first McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines, and later made a point of opening our one hundredth, one thousandth and two-thousandth locations here in Cook County. (1) 

Today, McDonald’s System operates about 400 restaurants in Chicagoland.  We do business in virtually every neighborhood in Chicago, from the Gold Coast to Little Village to Chatham.  We’re not just providing jobs; we’re creating opportunities and economic mobility for our communities.  

The impact of McDonald’s in Chicago extends far beyond just selling burgers and fries, however.  In the past few years, we’ve spent over $20MM remodeling our restaurants in Chicago.  That employed plumbers and contractors and electricians across our city.    

As a global business, we welcome thousands of people each year to our global HQ – franchisees, suppliers, company employees, and restaurant teams.  These visitors stay in Chicago hotels, eat at Chicago restaurants, and shop in Chicago stores. 

If you want to see the McDonald’s money multiplier effect in action, you need look no further than the Fulton Market neighborhood where our headquarters is now located at the site of the former Harpo Studios.  The West Loop is booming, and McDonald’s has been an important catalyst.  

We employ several thousand people in Chicago, who also give back through their own volunteer work and charitable giving to countless organizations across the city.  

At the corporate level, McDonald’s Corporation philanthropy across the city is well-known and only increasing.  In fact, last week we announced our new Chicago Community Impact Grants Program.   

In partnership with the Chicago Community Trust, we’re investing in 40 neighborhood organizations that provide life skills training and pre-employment support to Chicago youth – primarily youth from the city’s Black and Latinx communities.  

When you add it all up, McDonald’s annual economic contribution to the city of Chicago exceeds $2B.  Said another way, if McDonald’s were to ever leave Chicago, that’s $2B a year that would go away – permanently.    

Our tax base would erode, our public and private institutions would weaken, and the dynamism and confidence that have defined Chicago for generations would suffer. 

Can you imagine Chicago without McDonald’s?  I cannot.  

But we also need to face facts.  And the facts haven’t been especially kind to Chicago of late.  

The fact is, there are fewer large companies in Chicago this year than last year.  Fewer this month than last month.    

I’ve heard some people discount the significance of Boeing’s departure, Caterpillar’s departure, Citadel’s departure.  “It’s not that many jobs.”  “They’re still going to maintain a presence here.”

Maybe so.  But I think we can all agree, it’s not good news.  

Given the nature of my job, I travel all over the U.S. and around the world.  Everywhere I go, I’m confronted with the same question, “What’s going on in Chicago?”  While it may wound our civic pride to hear it, there’s a sense out there that the city is in crisis.  

The truth is, it’s more difficult today for me to convince a promising McDonald’s executive to relocate to Chicago from one of our other offices than it was just a few years ago.  It’s more difficult for me to recruit a new employee to Chicago than it was in the past.  

Now, I’m probably the biggest ambassador you’ll find for the city of Chicago.  It’s my family’s home after all, and we love Chicago. 

I extol the wonders of our lakefront.  Our incredible cultural institutions. Our world class health care and leading institutions of higher education.  Our relatively low cost of living.  The incredible diversity of the city and our phenomenal culinary scene.  I even talk up the Bears.  But it shouldn’t be this hard.  

And I’ll tell you, outsiders sense vulnerability.  I’ve heard from other mayors and governors who have made their case to me for McDonald’s to relocate our headquarters to their cities and states.  And if I’m getting those calls, you can be sure other Chicago companies are as well.  

We’re one Crain’s News Alert away from yet another troubling headline.  Those are the facts, whether we like it or not.  

McDonald’s is Doubling Down on Chicago and Investing in the Community

But while others may be leaving Chicago and Illinois, McDonald’s is doubling down.    

As you know, a few years ago we decided to move our headquarters out of Oak Brook.  I can tell you – it was not a foregone conclusion that we would move to Chicago or even stay in Illinois.  But we did, and it’s been a very good thing for McDonald’s, the city, and the state. 

Today, we announced that we’re relocating our Innovation Center from Romeoville to our West Loop HQ.  That’s over 100 jobs that we’re bringing to the City of Chicago.  Our Innovation Center, which will be known as Speedee Labs, is where we envision the future of McDonald’s, and that work will now happen in Chicago. 

Make no mistake, however.  McDonald’s commitment to the City of Chicago isn’t corporate altruism.  It’s not open-ended and unconditional.  As a publicly traded company, our shareholders would never support that.   

We’re betting on Chicago because – in the long- term – we think it makes good business sense for McDonald’s and will benefit all our stakeholders.  

In essence, we’re betting on public and private leaders across the city and state, who share our passion and dedication to Chicago. 

The Plan Going Forward

So, what’s it going to take?  

I’ve heard lots of good ideas and I certainly don’t have all – or even most – of the answers.  But, in my many conversations with leaders across this city, I have heard one underlying theme. 

It’s starts with partnership.  We need to rejuvenate the sense of public/private partnership that has defined Chicago for centuries.  This is in our DNA, but there’s a general sense that we’ve lost some of that in the past few years.  Maybe it was a casualty of COVID, and the disruption caused by the pandemic.  It doesn’t really matter why, but we need to get it back. 

One hundred and fifty years ago, this city burned to the ground – 18,000 building were destroyed along with the home of 100,000 Chicagoans.  We all know it now as The Great Chicago Fire.  

A relief committee was established to provide immediate aid to the displaced and unemployed.  The committee was comprised of individuals from both the private and public sectors, who worked together to fund the reconstruction, enact new building codes, and reform the fire department. 

Imagine if we did something similar today.    

It’s clear that three issues are top-of-mind for all of us, requiring a coordinated and concerted approach. 

  •  The first is CRIME.    I don’t have to tell you why this matters, and we don’t need to go over lots of statistics.  All of us, every single person in this room, recognizes the corrosive effect that crime has on the psyche of this city and its citizens.  For many Chicago neighborhoods, this is not a new issue  but– but like a blot of ink, it’s seeping into every corner of our city, wrecking an untold human toll.  I know this issue has the full attention of our public leaders, but we all have a vested interest to better understand the plan so that we can support it.  This will take more partnership. 
  •  The second issue is the overall BUSINESS CLIMATE.  It’s become increasingly difficult for global companies to do business in Illinois and Chicago. According to the Tax Foundation's Business Tax Climate rankings, Illinois dropped 10 rankings in the last five years—from 26th to 36th. (2) We also need more investment in infrastructure – both the hard and soft assets that attract new businesses.  Better roads, rail, and air transport.  Improved schools and plan to remediate the learning loss that so many of our children experienced due to home schooling during COVID.   Fixing our business climate will take partnership. 
  • The final issue is MINDSET.  We need a mindset shift.  We’re playing defense when we need to be playing offense.  Yes, Chicago has issues, and we need to address them.  By the way… the same could be said for every major city in America.   

But Chicago is an incredible city, and we need to celebrate its virtues.  We need to find ways to tell our story in a more compelling way.  We need people to associate Chicago with growth, innovation, and opportunity and showcase the proof points which happen all around us every single day. 

We Must Must Believe our Best Days are Ahead of Us- Both For Chicago and McDonald's 

Ray Kroc founded McDonald’s at an age when others would be planning for their retirement.  After years as a successful, albeit unspectacular, milkshake equipment salesman, Ray still harbored big dreams. 

Years later, someone asked him what inspired him to pursue such an unlikely, and risky path.  He didn’t just start a hamburger restaurant; he created an entirely new business model based on franchising and real estate ownership.  

Ray said, “I was convinced the best was ahead of me.”  

That’s our opportunity, as Chicagoans. To believe our best days are ahead of us, and to work together in partnership to ensure the vitality and success of this city for generations to come.

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