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Chicago Blues

It's a great, livable city, but it's fading as a business and financial capital. What can be done?

Chicago has always rolled with the punches. In 1916, poet Carl Sandburg celebrated the city as "hog butcher for the world, tool maker, stacker of wheat, player with railroads." Even then, Chicago was evolving into a distribution and manufacturing hub for the vast Midwest. Later, it emerged as a global financial center, whose futures exchanges were envied and emulated the world over. As brain surpassed brawn in the national and local economies, the place Sandburg extolled for ever "building, breaking, rebuilding" moved from being the City of Big Shoulders to the City of Big Ideas.

But today, even as Chicago thrives amid the national boom, it seems to be coming up short on ideas for what comes next. Other great cities can claim dynamic sectors that drive them--for Los Angeles, it's entertainment; for New York, it's securities, banks, and media; for Boston, it's high tech and mutual funds. But Chicago is still struggling to find the spark that will ignite it as a 21st century city. And worryingly, two sectors--finance and high tech--that should carry it forward are lagging badly.