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*Originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business

Governor J.B. Pritzker speaking at The Bloch Quantum Tech Hub Press Conference held at mHub Chicago.

After strategic early investments in the emerging technology, Illinois is poised to become the country’s quantum computing hub — with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and partners like Intersect Illinois, P33 and others leading the charge. John Atkinson, chairman of Intersect Illinois, and Meera Raja, VP of deep tech at P33, help break down how the state remains at the forefront.

What is quantum computing, and why is Illinois placing an emphasis on it? 

Meera: Quantum computing has the potential to solve global challenges with far-reaching equity implications, such as accelerating drug discovery, building better climate change models and even increasing food security. Illinois is bullish on quantum — both for the nation and our region. The technology will change the world, but for Illinois, it will also bring major opportunities for economic growth and access to good jobs.

John: As Meera said, quantum computing is a next-level technology that will be able to solve problems that traditional computing can’t. The promise of generational advancements — in everything from medical research to climate crises happening right here in Illinois — is absolutely something to strive for. There’s also an incredible opportunity to commercialize quantum and take advantage of the explosive job creation that comes with being on the forefront of emerging technology as impactful as this one. We have to learn from the lessons of the past, namely from our history with the semiconductor chip and the internet. Both of those breakthroughs happened in Illinois, but all the jobs and investments they created went elsewhere. We can’t let that happen again, which is precisely why being strategic about building out a pathway to keep top quantum talent, companies and development within the state is paramount.

Representatives from Intersect Illinois, P33 Chicago, Innovate Illinois and Chicago Quantum Exchange with Senator Tammy Duckworth at EeroQ Quantum Hardware’s headquarters in Humboldt Park.

How did the state get out in front of developing a quantum economy? 

John: Bottom line: foresight, planning and execution. Gov. Pritzker has been actively involved in attracting companies across the breadth of the economic development spectrum, including quantum. The governor has a background in technology startups and clearly understands the power of innovation and quantum computing. He has prioritized building a quantum ecosystem that includes unprecedented collaboration with our world-class universities — University of Chicago, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and others — that, coupled with significant state investment, has been critical in cementing Illinois’ leadership in this space.

Further, the governor has demonstrated commitment to securing the funding and infrastructure needed to support quantum’s growth. With $500 million allocated for the nation’s first Quantum and Microelectronics Research Campus for the coming fiscal year, Illinois is one of the earliest and strongest investors in the industry — and our stakeholders have taken notice. This historic project has the potential to bring in $20 billion in investment from private companies and create thousands of inclusive tech jobs. These investments attract new businesses and put the state in a strong position to attract federal co-investment around quantum and other initiatives under the CHIPS and Science Act.

Meera: Illinois has been an early investor in quantum technology, putting physical, financial and human capital behind what, at the time, was a very early-stage technology. Through nearly a decade of efforts by groups like the Chicago Quantum Exchange, the region has been standing up an ecosystem of the world’s leading scientists and quantum experts, a strong startup culture that continues to grow thanks to Duality (the nation’s first quantum startup accelerator), multiple NQI Quantum centers and quantum infrastructure, including the nation’s longest quantum communication network. This foundation was built not only with academic and quantum experts, but with organizations including the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Intersect Illinois, P33, Innovate Illinois, World Business Chicago and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association to ensure maximum impact and a sustainable quantum economy.

Is Illinois’ workforce prepared to meet the needs of this emerging industry? 

John: Uniquely so. Between the University of Chicago, University of Illinois, Northwestern, Chicago State University and others, Illinois has some of the top talent in the nation when it comes to quantum-related skills like computer science and engineering. The University of Illinois alone graduates more engineers each year than MIT, Stanford and Caltech combined. It’s also important to note that graduates of our city colleges, community colleges and early career centers can take advantage of well-paying jobs in the quantum field, which will offer above-average wages for skilled workers. As we continue to develop this exciting industry, state leadership will continue to meet the moment by strategically building programs and pipelines that reinforce our already strong workforce.

Meera: To add to that, quantum is a new and growing field, so this is our opportunity to not only meet its immense demands but build it from the beginning with an inclusive and equitable lens. It is imperative that we ramp up our workforce and diversify the industry pipeline at the same time, and Illinois is the perfect place to tackle this challenge. As John described, Illinois has the volume of degrees needed to meet demand. Our region currently has one of the country’s largest quantum-ready pipelines, awarding almost 60,000 degrees and certificates annually in quantum-relevant fields. These include almost 12,000 quantum-relevant degrees and certificates awarded by our community colleges, ensuring multiple pathways and populations have access to this industry and the resulting jobs. And with our Bloch Quantum Tech Hub, we are developing the nation’s largest community college-led quantum training program.

How will Illinois remain competitive in the quantum landscape? 

John: We are already an early leader in this space, so it’s a matter of continuing the path we’re on. At Intersect Illinois, we recognize the immense potential quantum has, so we’re building on the momentum by actively recruiting for a Chief Quantum Officer. The teamwork between Intersect, P33 and all the partner organizations Meera mentioned ensures that Illinois is recognized broadly for its significant quantum investments and incentives, which will continue to drive companies on the edge of this new frontier to choose our state.