Through Procurement Reform, Chicago Is Bringing New Opportunities to Small and Minority-Owned Businesses

July 9, 2018

The city is strengthening local businesses by making its contracting process more inclusive and transparent.

BY:  | July 9, 2018


The following blog post is part of the City Accelerator initiative, a collaboration between Governing, the Citi Foundation and  Living Cities  that aims to speed the adoption of innovative local government projects within and across cities that will have a significant impact on the lives of their residents, especially those with low incomes.


To maintain Chicago’s reputation as a world-class city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has committed to reforming city government to make it more inclusive and transparent. Strengthening the ability for small, local and minority firms to participate in city contracts creates opportunity for all Chicagoans and is a critical step in that process. 

From Day 1 in his administration, Mayor Emanuel has built on a strong foundation of inclusiveness, transparency and opportunity. Under his leadership, and with the support of our city council, the city of Chicago has created numerous programs and initiatives that are designed to impact our residents and businesses at all levels. These programs incentivize the participation of small, local and minority- and women-owned businesses, as well as veteran-owned businesses and firms that are operated by people with disabilities. That in turn increases the pool of bidders on city contracts, helps to build capacity and, most importantly, encourages the employment of local residents.

Participating in the City Accelerator, an initiative led by Living Cities and supported by the Citi Foundation, reflects the fact that the city of Chicago is a national leader in procurement reform and highlights our efforts as a city to pursue new opportunities and partnerships, strengthen our procurement practices, and push the boundaries of innovation to ensure those who do business with the city reflect Chicago’s rich diversity.

Creating a world-class collaborative procurement process is an important step in our larger goal of supporting diverse businesses and creating a more transparent, efficient and accountable government. In January 2014, the Department of Procurement Services (DPS) initiated a series of meetings with the city’s Sister Agencies and invited county, state and federal agencies as well as the Affirmative Action Advisory Board and nonprofit assist agencies representing the vendor community. These meetings grew into the Government Procurement Compliance (GPC) Forum, a strategic planning effort, which entails researching and reviewing best practices and recommending solutions to shared challenges. The GPC Forum includes over 60 participants consisting of 30 government entities and nonprofit assist agencies representing local small minority, women-owned and disadvantaged businesses. To further the mayor’s collaborative vision, an extension of the GPC Forum was established in May 2015, the Procurement Reform Task Force (PRTF), co-chaired by Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson, and was tasked with developing recommendations to make procurement and contract management at the city and its Sister Agencies more uniform, efficient and cost-effective while increasing accountability.

Through these meetings, The PRTF made 31 recommendations that were intended to further current efforts to ensure that the policies and practices of the city and Sister Agencies support competition, efficiency, transparency, integrity and uniformity in procurement. The recommendations include documenting the continued development of a universal procurement systems; identifying compliance functions that can be shared among Sister Agencies, including MBE/WBE compliance activities; studying the financial impact of the city’s risk-shifting contractual provisions; and evaluating the benefits of center-led/consolidated procurement across Sister Agencies. 

These improvements will not only increase transparency for the public and reduce administrative burden, they will also lower barriers to entry for small, local businesses and increase competition. This collaboration aligns with the goal of City Accelerator to support innovative local government projects within and across cities that have a significant impact on the lives of residents and business community.

Communication and outreach is a key component to keeping residents informed of improvements and strengthening partnerships with local communities to provide opportunities. DPS participates in more than 120 local events annually to ensure the city of Chicago is properly meeting the needs of our diverse businesses. We collaborate on these events with more than 40 nonprofit assist agencies that we work with on a regular basis.  These agencies represent a cross-section of our communities and include such agencies as the Federation of Women Contractors, the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association, the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE) of World Business Chicago, which is partnering with the city on our City Accelerator initiative. They are at the heart of Chicago’s communities and are tireless advocates for economic equity. One example of this collaboration is the annual Construction Summit, hosted earlier this year on Chicago’s west side at the JLM Life Center, one of Chicago’s assist agencies.  The event drew more than 1,000 participants representing manufacturers, contractors and suppliers of all sizes and specialties to learn about the hundreds of upcoming construction and construction-related opportunities.

Reverend Johnny Miller, CEO of the JLM Life Center, has confirmed the importance of this collaboration: “The Construction Summit is a one-stop shop,” he said, “They’re not only getting information that’s helpful to their business, but they’re also meeting people that can help be a mentor and share information.”

DPS continues its commitment to increasing the diversity of the businesses that bid on and earn city contracts. We continually are working to be a service-oriented department, which is why we host events like the Construction Summit as well as the upcoming 8th annual Vendor Fair on July 12, 2018. The Vendor Fair is a collaborative effort by the members of the GPC Forum and will provide businesses the opportunity to learn about contracting opportunities with the city of Chicago, its Sister Agencies, Cook County agencies, and state and federal agencies. Attendees will have the opportunity to attend several business workshops, learn how to join the construction trade unions, find financial, insurance, and legal assistance, meet with primes and developers, and most importantly, network with fellow businesses. 

Small businesses are the economic backbone of Chicago, and the vitality of our communities is directly related to the availability of local jobs. By helping to level the playing field so that everyone has an opportunity to grow their business, we will make our neighborhoods stronger and all of Chicago stronger.

Participating in the City Accelerator has given Chicago a tremendous amount of support and mentorship to continue providing innovative approaches and reform to municipal procurement. Collaborating and sharing insight with our peers in this year's City Accelerator initiative -- Charlotte, N.C.; Los Angeles; Memphis; and Milwaukee -- continues to be an invaluable experience and a testament to the excellent work being done across the country.

The Procurement Reform Task Force and other initiatives spearheaded by the city of Chicago will ensure that diverse businesses have the tools and ample opportunities to compete and win city contracts. The City Accelerator's technical and implementation resources will continue our work for the citizens of Chicago so that the real success will be when we see the stories of even more people throughout Chicago whose business are now thriving thanks to the impact of programs like these.

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