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That silence you heard Jan. 29 wasn't the cold snap breaking, but Chicago holding its breath when Motorola Mobility said it is being sold by Google Inc. to Chinese electronics maker Lenovo.
The sale announcement comes as Motorola is just weeks away from moving more than 2,000 workers into Chicago's Merchandise Mart and becoming the biggest tech employer in the city.
It also comes about a year after Motorola and its manufacturing partner – Flextronics International Ltd. – opened a plant in Fort Worth, Texas, to assemble Motorola's plastic bodied smartphone the Moto X.
But the Chinese electronics manufacturer says Motorola's move from north suburban Libertyville will be completed before the $2.9 billion sale is closed, and it doesn't plan to cut jobs after the deal is done. So the immediate impact on jobs and real estate is nil.
"We don't plan to lay off people," Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing said during a conference call after the announcement. "They have unique expertise in the smartphone area. Motorola brings a strong brand, brilliant engineering and strong relationships with carriers and retailers."
There's still a blow to the psyche. Lenovo, based in Beijing, doesn't have the cachet of Mountain View, Calif.-based Google. But Motorola and Chicago both could end up better off.
"Lenovo is not anywhere near as sexy as Google is. It's a blow to Chicago's connectivity back to Silicon Valley," said Michael Marasco, director of the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Northwestern University. "But Lenovo has a history of thinking long term, and it's a global leader." And through the deal, he notes, Chicago's tech community achieves greater "connectivity into Asia, which is a bigger market."
For more about the deal and what analysts say this could mean for Motorola, check out Crain's Chicago Business, a sister publication of Plastics News at www.chicagobusiness.com.