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A giant Caterpillar wheel loader processes through downtown Washington, Ill., on July 22 as part of a parade that honored first responders who helped the city recover and rebuild after a massive EF-4 tornado leveled more than 1,100 homes in 2013. Caterpillar end loaders were instrumental in helping clear the debris.

Caterpillar is growing its digital team as the company works to embed technology deeper into its operations and earth-moving equipment, and it opened a new Chicago office to accommodate the expansion.

The Deerfield-based company, which has a manufacturing plant in Decatur, moved its digital team into the office in the West Loop Gate neighborhood in September, almost two years after opening its first downtown office in the city's de facto tech hub, Merchandise Mart.

That first office, opened as an innovation-focused space, was meant to attract tech talent. The tactic worked and now, as Caterpillar focuses more on tech, it's critical to keep attracting that talent, said Ogi Redzic, vice president of Caterpillar's 600-person Digital Enabled Solutions Division.

"The things we're building right now are foundational for the future of Caterpillar," Redzic said. "Customer expectations are changing. ... He is expecting the same tools he (uses) for his daily life to be as good and better in the equipment that he gets."

Roughly 90 employees work out of the new office, the majority of whom are digital team members. Redzic declined to share hiring plans, but said the office provides room to grow.

The heavy equipment maker isn't alone in its quest to use a downtown outpost to lure highly sought-after data scientists and other tech workers. Companies in industries from fast food to insurance have opened offices in the heart of the city, where tech employees want to work. The hip office spaces have proved worth the extra cost for suburban companies, who often end up competing for talent with behemoths like Facebook or Google.

Companies that aren't traditionally thought of as being part of the tech industry can face an extra challenge winning over potential recruits that might not be aware of their digital work.

"Before I joined, I really did not know the scope and breadth of Cat's products," said Redzic, who has a background in connected vehicles and other digital services. "I was quite surprised actually myself, thinking, 'I'm joining a company that does excavation and mining,' to learn about all the other things Cat is doing globally."

The types of digital talent on Redzic's team is vast, from software developers and data analysts to telecommunication experts and computer engineers.

They work on Caterpillar's ecommerce operations, through which customers buy parts for their machines. They develop apps for internal and external use. Last month, the company rolled out an app that lets equipment owners monitor their machines' maintenance schedules and operation times.

The team also gathers and analyzes data from Caterpillar machinery, in order to make the equipment more efficient for customers.

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