IBM’s quantum computing moves could put industrial space in demand

Big Blue considers expansion as Illinois seeks to become hub for the technology

IBM Expansion Could Solidify Chicago as Quantum Computing Hub
A photo illustration of IBM's Arvind Krishna (Getty, IBM)

A hefty investment from Big Blue may be the tip of the iceberg that solidifies Illinois as a hub for quantum computing development, which could create more demand for industrial space.

Tech giant IBM is mulling an expansion in Chicago amid “continuously growing interest and investment in quantum computing” across the city and state, Crain’s reported

The company is collaborating with the University of Chicago, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the Bloch Quantum Tech Hub on several projects “to advance our timeline of bringing useful quantum computing to the world, and are looking forward to being a part of other significant developments soon,” Jay Gambetta, vice president of IBM Quantum, told the outlet.

The details of IBM’s potential expansion are scarce, but the company’s interest in ramping up its quantum computing operations is a big win for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who’s been working to put Illinois at the forefront of this technological revolution. Last week, lawmakers approved Pritzker’s request for $500 million dedicated to quantum development, as well as specific tax breaks and other incentives for such projects. 

A quantum computing hub could breathe life into vacant or outdated industrial properties.

PsiQuantum, a pioneer in the field, is eyeing two industrial sites in Chicagoland for potential redevelopment: the former U.S. Steel South Works on the city’s South Side and the former Texaco refinery in Lockport. PsiQuantum, seeking a location capable of sustaining cryogenic facilities crucial for operating quantum computers, could generate more than 1,000 jobs in the region.

Leveraging the principles of quantum mechanics, quantum computing promises breakthroughs due to its unprecedented speed and security capabilities. Pritzker views this cutting-edge technology as a long-term driver of high-paying jobs, attracting researchers and skilled workers. 

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IBM, with 1,500 workers in Chicago, has been a long-term partner of the Chicago Quantum Exchange, a research consortium led by the University of Chicago. The company is a recognized leader in the field, having already built several quantum computers.

In addition to IBM, other quantum-focused companies are reportedly considering Chicago, including manufacturers of specialized equipment, major semiconductor companies and another startup aiming to build large-scale quantum computers, the outlet reported. 

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With research in quantum mechanics gaining traction for decades, the technology is finally nearing a breakthrough. Companies are focusing on scaling the technology beyond the lab environment.

IBM is among the frontrunners in the race to develop the software and hardware necessary for widespread quantum computing adoption. They’re competing with other tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Honeywell, alongside several promising startups.

“IBM is in a different league than some of the other developers out there,” said Heather West, an analyst at technology-research firm IDC. “Building a quantum system requires a lot of trial and error… IBM has multiple funding streams and a name behind it.”

—Quinn Donoghue