I took office on the heels of the worst recession since the Great Depression and after a decade in which 200,000 Chicagoans left the city. Soon after becoming mayor, I convened experts and stakeholders from across the city to create a Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs. We have used this plan as a roadmap, focusing on recruiting companies and growing those that are already here as well as making Chicago a better place to do start and grow a business. We have also made a series of strategic investments in high growth industries such as digital manufacturing, advanced batteries, and technology services. Chicago is starting to see results: the economy has grown by 73,000 jobs since I took office and unemployment is down by a third since 2011, a larger drop than any major city in the U.S. From day one we focused on kick starting economic growth in our neighborhoods. In my first few months of taking office, we put the employer head tax – which reduced incentives to hire new workers by taxing business owners for each employee – on the road to elimination by the end of 2013. This reform saved business owners $40 million from 2012 – 2014 and will save them $25 million a year going forward. We secured $6 million from the Bloomberg Foundation to create an innovation team that focuses mainly on improving the business climate in Chicago. In two years, the team slashed the number of licenses by 60 percent and is saving business owners $1.3 million a year in reduced license fees. They also established the Small Business Center, which has reduced the time a business owner stands in line at City Hall by 50 percent. I also invested $1 million in launching the first-in-the-nation microlending program that has since helped more than 120 small business owners with $1.1 million in loans and will help 100 businesses a year in the future. And through the "Chicago Neighborhoods Now" plan, we have helped bring $4 billion in public and private investment to seven targeted neighborhoods in the city for coordinated public and private investment initiatives. The plan brought a revitalized Red Line South and billions of dollars in other public transit, water and street investments. It also brought Method's first manufacturing facility in the U.S. to the Pullman neighborhood, a Whole Foods to Englewood, and the $45.6 million "Shops and Lofts" project at 47th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, among others. In the next four years we will build upon our citywide economic plan by creating growth plans for each of our neighborhoods. We will work to identify additional incentives for bringing businesses and jobs to struggling neighborhoods. We will expand lending options for our small businesses, based on the success of our microlending program. And we will maintain momentum in our high-growth industries like technology, advanced manufacturing, energy, and biomedicine by identifying new reforms and incentives and partnering with the federal and state governments to invest further.
We should all celebrate the fact our Central Business District is growing again, as the nation emerges from the Great Recession. Continuing this growth and expanding prosperity across the entire City will require a real investment in our neighborhoods. That is why I have put forward an agenda to strengthen our neighborhood-based schools and make our streets safer in every community. Great cities have great neighborhoods, and we simply cannot attract new high-growth industries to our city without strong neighborhoods where their workers will want to live. We have invested heavily in developing the downtown area and making it more attractive for the last 20 years. It is truly a success that we can and should be proud of. We should be pleased this investment is paying off with over 540,000 jobs now located in the downtown area. We want these workers to stay and live in Chicago, raise their families here and pay their taxes here. However, not everyone who works downtown can or will live downtown. That is why we need vibrant neighborhoods for these workers to live in – communities with safe streets, good schools and local retail options for shopping, as well as affordable housing opportunities. Just as our neighborhoods depend on each other, our City depends on the continued growth of Northeastern Illinois. As Mayor, I will work collaboratively with surrounding communities to fund our airports and other transportation modes, secure stable power sources, and strengthen communications lines, because these are the necessary ingredients to continued economic growth.
We will establish a series of Public-Private Partnerships funded by $1 Billion dollars of the City of Chicago's existing $7.9 Billion Dollar Capital Improvement Program. Specifically, over a period of four years, we will identify 1,000 small to medium sized Chicago based businesses, which are industry and geographically diverse, and provide each of them a $1 million dollar jobs creation grant Our goal is to help these reputable Chicago businesses grow; introduce their products, good and services into the national and global stream of commerce; increase production; and create 50 sustainable jobs. This initiative will result in a total of 50,000 permanent private sector jobs.
The city prioritizes the relocation of corporate headquarters at the expense of bringing real employment opportunities to our city, and specifically areas of town that have not seen economic development. We should encourage job growth of the middle class over bringing corporate boardrooms to the Loop. Further, we should ask that entities receiving TIF money hire from the city and neighborhoods they're located in. I asked that Rush and other businesses hire from the neighborhoods, and they were able to find qualified applicants. We should do the same with our TIF money so that we can put Chicagoans to work