Small Business Development

I know businesses drive our communities and I have long been an advocate of investing in small, family-owned businesses. As a former small-business-owner myself, I understand the economic impact and opportunities that small businesses bring to our residents. The lively shops make our neighborhood corridors culturally vibrant, economically diverse, and are a point of pride for our residents. I owned a Laundromat on 63rd Street for decades, and my customer base was my own neighbors. I was able to meet much of my community at the Laundromat, and am proud to say that my investment in my own community helped enhance the neighborhood.  I was able to re-invest in my community and re-circulate those dollars right here in the 20th Ward, right here at home.

Last week, we took a huge leap in enhancing our economic efforts and re-circulating investments right here at home. I was glad to join Mayor Emanuel in announcing the expansion of Chicago's Small Business Opportunity Centers, from three current centers to eight, which will provide increased access to capital for our community's entrepreneurs. Through expanded partnerships, the Small Business Opportunity Centers will be able to provide loans between $50,000 - 250,000 to small businesses to help them access the capital they need to launch their businesses. Local commerce helps us ensure that our investments remain within the community; without a vibrant business district, residents have no option but to take their dollars elsewhere, and we miss out on the purchasing power and investment power of those dollars. It's time we change that and ensure our dollars get re-circulated throughout our own community.

We are making great strides to make business-ownership more attainable for all entrepreneurs, regardless of their economic background. I am proud to say that three of the Small Business Opportunity Centers, The Resurrection Project, Greater Englewood CDC, and Sunshine Gospel Ministries are already partners and are present in the 20th ward. Their roles will be to counsel small businesses through the lending process and ensure a match to available capital resources. These three organizations will be enhancing the funding available for small businesses, and will allow us to have a greater impact in our economic development in the ward and throughout the City of Chicago.  

I want to point out that Sunshine Gospel Ministries has been working on this very issue for some time now. This has been an invaluable asset to those who have been trained through the entrepreneurial program for small businesses. Counseling and coaching to make their goals a reality is powerful. In partnership with local families and a grant I was able to provide through the SBIF program, the Greenline Coffee Shop in West Woodlawn is now a reality and it employs 10 staff - all of whom live in our community. These kinds of investments have the potential to launch us on a path of economic progress, provide local employment, and attract future development as well - which is exactly what we seek to replicate. If you haven't visited yet, I encourage you to stop by Greenline Coffee (501 E. 61 St.) and check out what our own community has to offer.

I also want to mention almost two years ago I contacted Mariano's grocery chain in a recruitment effort. That engagement has continued and is now in advanced stages. We are working together to bring a high-quality grocery store to the Woodlawn/Washington Park area. While we are getting close to a final agreement, we're still in negotiations and I look forward to making an official announcement soon. This would most certainly impact the community's economic stability and fulfill yet another goal in our quality of life plan.

Bouncing back from the economic downturn of 2008-09 has been a challenge for all communities, but it's been most challenging for communities that had already seen disinvestment prior to the Great Recession. It has not been an easy feat to get back on a track to economic stability, but as Alderman of the 20th Ward I've worked tirelessly to secure strategic partnerships and collaborations to help us enhance our progress in every direction. The job isn't finished, but I stand proud when I say "We're getting things done!" Let's keep this momentum going! I urge you to go to the polls and vote to ensure this progress stays on the current track.  

-"Willie B."

Posted on March 29, 2015 .