Rita Athas served as president of World Business Chicago (WBC) from December 2007 through May 2013, and she now serves as a senior advisor on the board of directors. WBC leads Chicago’s business retention, attraction, and expansion efforts and raises the city’s position as a premier global business destination. Chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and with a board of 63 of the city’s top business leaders, WBC fosters private sector growth through the advancement of a business friendly environment that attracts world class talent. As president, Ms. Athas oversaw day-to-day operations of the organization, and with the input of WBC's private-sector board, developed its strategic direction.
Under Ms. Athas’ leadership, WBC was consistently ranked as one of the top economic development organizations in the country and always placed as one of the top three cities for number of new businesses. She oversaw the move of Miller Coors, Ventas, Veolia Environmental, United, Willis, and Coyote Logistics to Chicago to name just a few.
Working with WBC staff, Ms. Athas also instituted several outreach strategies including a program to attract young, knowledge-based workers to the city called “Cooler by the Lake,” a strategy to highlight Chicago’s business opportunities at trade and convention shows, and the establishment of a committee of university business deans to provide business counsel and access to future decision makers, and in 2011 WBC oversaw the Chicago NATO Summit.
On the international front, Ms. Athas spearheaded Chicago’s participation in the 2010 Shanghai Expo and coordinated international delegations to Russia, the United Arab Emirates, five mainland Chinese cities and Hong Kong, and established an annual briefing of Chicago Consular Corps on Chicago’s business advantage.
Ms. Athas came to the economic development corporation in 2007 after serving as Mayor Richard M. Daley’s deputy chief of staff for external affairs for 10 years. In that capacity she served as Mayor Daley's liaison to regional mayors, The U.S. Conference of Mayors, the business community and foundations. Ms. Athas helped spearhead the formation of the Great Lakes Cities Initiative, support for the Modernization of O’Hare Airport, and the development of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.
Ms. Athas has a long history with local government. She served in various positions with a number of suburban municipalities. She served as the executive director of the Northwest Municipal Conference, a consortium of 40 municipalities representing a population of over 1 million in Northwest Illinois, which is widely recognized as one of the most innovative regional councils in the country.
She is a 1988-89 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow. Ms. Athas serves as the co-chair of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council and on the board of Metropolis Strategies, CEOs for Cities, and the Metropolitan Planning Council. She is a member of the Economic Club and Executive Club as well as the Chicago Council for Global Affairs.
Ms. Athas was awarded an honorary doctorate from Elmhurst College, and she earned a BA degree from Elmhurst and an MPA from Northern Illinois University.