CHICAGO – Today, Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) Commissioner Rosa Escareno announced the selection of eight Regional Business Centers (RBCs). Located in neighborhoods throughout the city, these Centers will serve as regional hubs providing business licensing assistance and other resources for small businesses. The eight Centers will be awarded a total of $650,000 in grants as part of Mayor Lightfoot’s commitment to fill the current gap of local business resources, particularly for entrepreneurs in historically underserved locations and populations. The selected organizations are expected to begin operating as Regional Business Centers in January 2021.
“Small business owners are the beating heart of our communities,” said BACP Commissioner Rosa Escareno. “Now more than ever it is critical that we do everything we can to support our businesses and provide critical assistance to our neighborhood entrepreneurs. Regional Business Centers are the next step in our ongoing commitment to our businesses and the communities they serve.”
BACP currently provides $3.4 million annually in funding to nearly 70 delegate agencies for a variety of general business assistance programs. However, these agencies typically do not offer the individualized licensing support that is often necessary for entrepreneurs and business owners seeking to navigate the business licensing process, particularly those in underserved communities. The new Regional Business Center program aims to solve this problem by providing supplemental funding to select organizations to provide additional resources on a regional level that will make it easier than ever for new and existing business owners to access licensing support and specialized assistance in their community. The RBCs will focus in particular on underserved locations and populations, including low-income communities, people of color, people with limited English proficiency and businesses in the South and West Sides.
“For far too long, business owners of color have faced an extra set of challenges on their path to success,” said Kenya Merritt, Chicago’s Chief Small Business Officer. “Under Mayor Lightfoot’s leadership we are committed to reversing this disinvestment, and I am proud to bring these Regional Business Centers into our communities that need them the most.”
In addition to the funding, each RBC will receive training to support businesses in the following ways:
- Licensing Support: RBCs will assist throughout the licensing processes by helping with online license applications and preparing entrepreneurs for engagement with BACP Licensing Consultants;
- Financing for Underrepresented Populations: RBCs will be trained in financial resources to provide support to entrepreneurs that have had a historic lack of access to banks and capital networks;
- Professional Services, including Sector-Specific Guidance: RBCs will be responsible for developing and maintaining partnerships to provide specialized, sector-specific resources to entrepreneurs;
- Supporting New Economies: RBCs will be able to assist with entrepreneurs exploring new economies, such as worker cooperatives and home-based businesses;
- Assistance with Recruiting Skilled and Qualified Labor: RBCs will connect businesses to resources to assist them in hiring qualified workers
“As Chairman of the City Council License & Consumer Protection Committee and Alderman of the 37th Ward, I am a long-time champion of promoting and expanding opportunities for businesses of all types - small, minority- and women-owned, as well as major retail, services, manufacturing and tech services throughout the 37th Ward and across the City of Chicago,” said 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts. “I thank Mayor Lightfoot and BACP for taking this next step to ensure that businesses and entrepreneurs in every corner of the City have the tools they need to succeed. Strong economic empowerment initiatives are essential elements critical to the city’s success for today and the future. This new program will make a difference for business owners in my communities, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Mayor and BACP to improve services for a diverse array of entrepreneurs and business owners.”
Business Service Organizations were selected through a competitive RFP process based on their capacity to provide the requested services while meeting the program’s goals to provide services to underrepresented populations in historically underserved geographies throughout the city. The following organizations were selected to be Regional Business Centers:
- Accion Chicago
- Austin African-American Business Network Association
- Calumet Area Industrial Commission
- Greater Southwest Development Corporation
- North River Commission
- Puerto Rican Cultural Center
- Quad Communities Development Corporation
- Uptown United
“Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA) is committed to supporting a thriving business community on the West Side of Chicago,” said Malcolm Crawford, Executive Director. “As a Regional Business Center we can take this commitment to the next level and serve as a regional hub for businesses throughout the area.”
The Regional Business Center program aligns with Mayor Lightfoot’s ongoing commitment to support and empower historically underinvested neighborhoods. Launched one year ago, the Mayor’s Invest South/West Initiative is designed to support revitalization of key corridors on the South and West Sides of Chicago that will marshal the resources of multiple City departments, community partners and corporate partners to revitalize the core of 10 underinvested neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West Sides. This marque program is aligning more than $750 million in allocated funding over the next three years.