April 25, 2001 Chicago Tribune
Interest groups stand in the way of greatness

April 25, 2001

The impasse that is blocking the expansion of O'Hare International Airport by adding at least one additional parallel runway may remind observers of another episode in recent Illinois history when powerful parochial interests preserved the status quo to the detriment of the larger community.

Those of us who have been active in the banking community in Chicago remember when Chicago had an opportunity to give New York City a "run for its money" to become the leading money center in the United States.

With our major commodities and financial exchanges, and as a major transportation center, Chicago's opportunity was real.

But parochial interests were too strong. Because Downstate and suburban banks feared competition from the major Chicago banks, Illinois banks were permitted to have only one branch, and no bank could be within two miles of another bank.

As a result, Chicago banks were denied the opportunities to expand, acquire and consolidate that were available to banks headquartered in other states.

When the last vestiges of so-called "unit banking" disappeared in the early 1990s, Chicago banks found themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage. Consequently, three of the five largest banks in Chicago today are branches or subsidiaries of banks headquartered elsewhere; more importantly, the number of financial-services jobs in New York City now outnumbers those in Chicago by more than 150,000 jobs.

Lost to Chicago were not only the jobs that would have been created in the banks themselves. As well, money-center banks in Chicago would have created even more financial- and professional-services opportunities in consulting and accounting firms, investment banks, law firms and all the other service organizations that support the banking industry.

Chicago banks were constrained--and our city and state lost forever an enormously valuable opportunity--because local interests prevailed over the general public interest.

Today, particular interests are standing in the way of expanding runway capacity at O'Hare Airport. There are other good ideas to expand aviation capacity in the region, but they are complementary to--not a substitute for--the expansion of the hub operations at O'Hare.

Chicago has an opportunity to be the aviation center of North America. At stake are billions of dollars annually to the regional economy, more than 100,000 jobs and the opportunity to be a major center in North America for international commercial activity.

Let's quickly seize this opportunity, before it is too late, to grow and expand the Chicago and Illinois economies--and create thousands of new jobs for our citizens.

[Chicago ATC News]