Governor Pat Quinn, right, inspects his new Evanston Public Library card. He was in town to announce a major grant for high-speed Internet for the City and Northwestern. Third Ward Alderman Melissa Wynne, at lectern, served as Mayor pro tem.                                                                       RoundTable photo

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Just a week into its new life as a branch rather than the Twig, the Chicago/Main branch of the Evanston Public Library welcomed Governor Pat Quinn, City officials and administrators and students from Northwestern University.  At a time when the library would normally be crowded with tots and parents, the rooms were stuffed with suits, most of them accessorized with Northwestern purple.

Governor Pat Quinn announced on Jan. 18 that the State of Illinois would invest $1 million to help Evanston become an Illinois Gigabit Community, bringing ultra-high speed Internet to a technology corridor along Chicago Avenue from Main Street to Northwestern University.

The gigabit service will be crucial to developing what City officials are already calling “the Innovation Corridor,” which they hope will attract entrepreneurs and retain the more than 160 startups already in Evanston. This grant “advances the governor’s efforts to encourage world-class broadband infrastructure across Illinois,” according to a statement from the Governor’s office.

The ultra-high-speed Internet service will offer connectivity and help create new jobs and new businesses, said Gov. Quinn. Referring to the first U.S. president from Illinois, Gov. Quinn said, “Lincoln would be proud that we are gathered at a library.” He thanked Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro for the “many great minds that come to learn here. Jobs follow brain power.”

Gov. Quinn praised State Representative Robyn Gabel of Evanston, who attended the announcement, as a “strong voice for libraries” and for making sure that “no one is left out [of education opportunities] from birth on. We’re investing in human beings; we’re investing in infrastructure. We think everyone should be a lifelong learner.”

Serving as Mayor pro tem while Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl was out of town, Third Ward Alderman Melissa Wynne welcomed Gov. Quinn, Mr. Schapiro and other City and University dignitaries.
“Today is a great day for entrepreneurs, small businesses and Northwestern University. We are here at Evanston’s Innovation Corridor,” she said.  Nodding to the 8-10 Northwestern students who formed a semi-circle behind her, she said, “We want them to stay and build businesses here.”

Mr. Schapiro said Northwestern is a “wonderful research university.”  He added that he and his family “have been shocked at how much we love Evanston. … It’s a privilege to be here. … We need to do an even better job of supporting this community. … If we work together and Northwestern grads stay here and take advantage of this high-speed network, this will be a good thing for the City and for Northwestern.”

Rep. Gabel said it “makes sense that we enhance our technology innovation. We have to enhance economic development to get out of [the present financial squeeze]. We can’t tax our way out; we can’t cut our way out. We have to grow our way out.”

John O’Donnell of O’Donnell Investments said his company planned to build a state-of-the-art office building on the vacant lot on the southeast corner of Main Street and Chicago Avenue. He said there will be offices, a conference center, a recreation center and food services, access to Metra and CTA and to both Loyola and Northwestern universities.  

Two organizations that foster startup companies, coLabs and the Technology Innovation Center, could see benefits for their companies from this new Internet services, said to be up to 100 times faster than what most people now have.

Eric Harper, founder of coLabs, which has fostered several dozen companies in the few years since its inception, said the new service “is something our companies need.”

Charles Happ, who owns the Technology Innovation Center (TIC, or the Incubator), with companies on Chicago Avenue and on Davis Street, said the new Internet service will help “not only from the standpoint of retaining businesses but also of attracting innovative ones.”

That Gov. Quinn chose a library to announce a technology grant “shows the renaissance of the Evanston Public Library. Technology dovetails with our strategic plan that emphasizes modern technology and makes the library a community space,” Library trustee Michael Tannen told the RoundTable.  

Ald.  Wynne presented Gov. Quinn with an Evanston Public Library T-shirt, since the announcement was made in the newly transformed branch of the Library. She also gave him a Library card, urging him to check out a book, “so when you come back, you can bring another grant.”