Growing Chicago's Economy One Small Business At A Time

November 10, 2015

Chicago may be known as the City of Big Shoulders, but we are really a city of small businesses. These growing enterprises are the economic backbone of Chicago. They provide jobs for our residents and serve as a critical building block for stronger neighborhoods. So one of the best ways that we can support job creation and encourage economic growth in Chicago is by giving our small businesses the tools they need to succeed.

One of the ways that we are empowering small businesses in Chicago is through a partnership between Harold Washington College and Goldman Sachs that gives entrepreneurs access to the 10,000 Small Businesses program. Harold Washington College has a focus on business, entrepreneurship and professional services; thanks to this program, small-business owners enrolled at the college are receiving advice that is normally reserved for the Fortune 500 companies. I had the opportunity to meet with several graduates from the 10,000 Small Businesses program as we celebrated the Chicago alumni recently; seeing the impact it's had on those entrepreneurs, I am so proud that this program has come to Chicago and even prouder of the progress that it is making.

A recent report from Babson College found that more than 70 percent of the Chicago small-business owners who graduated from this program have increased their revenue, and 50 percent have created new jobs. Both of those rates outpace what you see in the broader economy. But more important than the statistics are the success stories that come from each class. John Griffin Jr., who owns an investigative services company in our Chatham neighborhood on the South Side, graduated from the first class. His company has seen tremendous growth, and John recently received the Illinois Small Business Person of the Year Award for 2015. Laurie Kohl, who graduated from the program in 2013, was also recognized for her success at another awards ceremony held just this month. Laurie leads a company that makes software to help building owners and property managers comply with regulations for elevators and other mechanical devices. She has recently increased her workforce by 86 percent and her revenue by more than 250 percent.

I know that there are many more success stories waiting to be written about courageous entrepreneurs who are pursuing their dreams in neighborhoods throughout our city. That is why the 10,000 Small Businesses program is only one piece of our larger strategy to level the playing field for our small businesses and to make City Hall a partner in their success. Over the past four years, city officials have made a host of reforms to remove bureaucratic barriers to businesses' success, so they can focus on customers rather than City Hall. This includes everything from eliminating the per employee head tax, to consolidating business licenses, to making our small-business department entirely paperless by the end of 2016. We also created a microlending program to provide financing to entrepreneurs who need loans that are beyond the reach of their credit cards, but not enough for a bank to be interested. Recently we also announced our new Small Business Council, tasked with developing even more reforms going forward. It will help small businesses address challenges they face, from further reducing red tape to increasing their access to capital.

There is a lot more work to do and many more Chicago entrepreneurs who are ready to succeed. Our challenge as a city is to continue thinking of ways that we can support them, because by helping more small businesses grow, in turn we will help more neighborhoods succeed all throughout the City of Chicago.

Chicago is just one of the cities where the 10,000 Small Businesses program has been a success. Visit for more information on how the program can help you grow your business.

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