Uber Picks Chicago for Freight Business Headquarters

September 09, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Uber Technologies selected Chicago as the headquarters for its growing Uber Freight business.

The company said it plans to hire “thousands of Chicago employees to power Freight’s global growth and innovation.”  It did not provide a timeline or specific employment target.

However, Uber said, it would invest more than $200 million annually in the region. The spending includes headcount, real estate investment and other expenses. The new office will serve as one of Uber Freight’s primary engineering hubs. Other functions will include sales and account management.

“Chicago will quickly become our first engineering hub outside of San Francisco, where we’ll scale the team that keeps pushing our technology forward,” said Lior Ron, head of Uber Freight.

Uber is locating the headquarters in The Old Main Post Office in the historic Chicago River area. The company signed a 10-year lease.

TECHNOLOGY PLAY

Uber is applying its ride-hailing software and other technology to match drivers and shippers to bypass load brokers. Some freight industry analysts believe this is an efficient method for independent truckers and small fleets to book business.

The company says its platform targets the underserved long tail of small shippers with an automated self-serve tool.

“We’ve built cutting-edge technology for both sides of the freight marketplace, unlocking opportunity for shippers, carriers, and their drivers so that they can focus on improving their bottom lines, growing their businesses, and keeping their eyes on the road ahead,” Ron said.

Such digital load matching could improve trucking industry efficiency. Competitors like Omnitracs and Descartes provide similar services. 

“Competition from traditional players and emerging players isn’t going away, and Uber expects to see consolidation among the digital players over time,” analysts at Morgan Stanley Research wrote in an investment report about the company issued Friday.

GROWTH STRATEGY

They said Uber’s pricing is competitive in the marketplace, but the company is not driving growth with significant undercutting.

“The digital transition and innovation to improve shipper efficiency – carrier review tools, pick-up facility efficiency metrics/review tools, route optimization tools, dynamic scheduling, etc. are larger drivers of growth,” the Morgan Stanley analysts said.

Since Uber launched Uber Freight in May 2017, the digital freight broker has grown to more than $350 million in annual gross bookings, according to paperwork the company filed earlier this year in advance of a proposed stock offering. The company did not break out Uber Freight’s operations in its financial report for the most recent quarter.

Uber says the business has grown across the U.S. and Europe. It has more than 400,000 drivers in its network and 1,000 shippers as customers. Clients include such national brands such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, Niagara Bottling, Land O’Lakes Inc. and Colgate-Palmolive Co. 

PICKING CHICAGO

Chicago was a logical location for the freight business, Uber said. It is centrally located and is a major international transportation hub. More recently, it has developed a tech talent workforce.

“The region’s world-class universities, research centers and long history of building America’s transportation systems have resulted in an exceptional talent pool today,” Uber said. 

Besides rideshare drivers and food delivery couriers, Uber already has more than 1,000 employees in the region.

Uber Freight’s choice of headquarters “is a testament to Chicago’s place as both a global transit hub and world-class destination for the tech industry to grow and thrive,” said Lori Lightfoot, the city’s mayor.

Michelle Rafter April 15, 2019
Uber documents reveal that since its 2017 launch, Uber Freight has contracted with 36,000 carriers, 400,000 drivers and 1,000 shippers. It will hit $500 million in revenue this year.

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