Small-business owners in the community had ample opportunity to meet with government officials during the week of Jan. 12 to discuss their concerns and questions.
After 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea held a business breakfast on Jan. 15 at the Beverly Arts Center (BAC) with about 50 attendees, Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers met with business officials on Jan. 17 at the BAC.
The city treasurer is the custodian and manager of all cash and investments for the city, the four city employee pension funds and the Chicago Teacher’s Pension. In addition, the treasurer’s office manages a number of programs that promote economic development in Chicago.
As part of his “77 for 77” campaign, Summers plans to visit 77 city neighborhoods in 77 days as he campaigns for the Feb. 24 municipal election after being appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to replace Stephanie Neely, who left the post for a job in the private sector.
“One of the great things, I think, about this community is that there is real support from the residents in the small businesses and the retail businesses in particular,” said Summers, a Hyde Park native. “You don’t see that in every community.”
Much of the Jan. 17 meeting, which had about 10 attendees, focused on better communication between small-business owners and the treasurer’s office, which Summers admitted is a bit of an unknown to people living in Chicago. One local businesses owner said she wasn’t sure where to go to seek financial help, and there was concern about the amount of time between grants being designated to a business and the grant money actually being disbursed.
Robin Harmon, owner of RMH Design, 1804 W. Wood St., said she has never received “a dime from any bank” or the private sector and wanted to know how to find assistance for her business.
To combat those types of issues, Summers said, he is organizing “delegate agencies,” small groups made up of business organizations and neighborhood groups to keep in close contact with his office.
“Part of what we have to do is empower those delegate agencies to be that source for every community and [make sure that] they’re empowered with answers and they’re empowered with an ability to help solve those problems, and they’re empowered with the direct liaisons with my office,” Summers said.
A key part of those delegate agencies, Summers said, will be groups he called “think leaders,” which he said will be one or two representatives from each Chicago neighborhood that will form “think tanks” to work with him.
“That’s going to be the group that is empowered for the community that has a direct relationship with my office,” he said.
Heather Ireland Robinson, executive director of the BAC, said the meeting was helpful. It brought visitors into her center, and she hoped Summers would be someone who could aid the facility, which is a small business and has experienced financial difficulties over recent years. Robinson’s main concern was how not-for-profit groups such as the BAC can receive financial assistance in a timely manner.
“I’m interested in talking to him more about some of these idea that he has about services, and what the city can do for non-profits, and how he’s going to engage banks to help places like this,” Ireland Robinson said.
Summers also said he wants to have more frequent “scorecards” in order for people to evaluate a bank and how it does business. Such a system is needed, Summer said.
“I’ve been pushing for a quarterly scorecard. They haven’t had one in five years.”
Moving forward, Summers said, he’s confident in the support this community shows its local businesses. In fact, he said, prior to the BAC, he visited Ellie’s Cafe, 10701 S. Hale Ave.
During his visit in Chatham that started the “77 for 77” initiative, Summers said, he also visited a similar coffee shop—but that business had since closed because of the community’s inability to support it.
“That’ll never be an issue for Ellie’s,” Summers said. “And that represents a great opportunity. Because if Ellie’s wants to expand their catering business, and they need capital to do that, I know that the community is there to support it. I know that the business model will be strong because you have in Beverly, Morgan Park, Mt. Greenwood … they support their local businesses. So that helps me as an investor; that helps me as an advocate make a stronger case to invest and support those businesses.”