Business is Booming in Illinois

Chicago has been making a lot of money with its tourists recently.  A record number of people visited last year – more than 55.2 million – a 2.5 percent elevation from 2016 visitors.   This was up significantly from 2010 when there were approximately 39.25 million visitors.

It’s possible that this elevation in “leisure travel” – as suggested by the Mayor – could be due to Bon Appetit’s recognition of Chicago as “Restaurant City of the Year.”  And what this means is the economy is benefiting as more jobs are created.  As Mayor Emanuel said:

“By continuing to set new tourism records and bring millions more people to Chicago every year, we are generating economic opportunities that reach every Chicago neighborhood. The combination of record-setting growth in leisure visitors accompanied by record-setting results from the major conventions that choose to meet here is an outstanding barometer for the overall success of Chicago as a thriving destination.”

Agriculturally Illinois is doing well. Apple growers in the region encountered an excellent crop.  According to Curtis Orchards in Champaign, orchard grower Randy Graham: “It was a good apple crop overall. I’ve been talking to a lot of growers … and everyone’s been fairly strong across the state. A lot of people have been saying they are about 80 to 85 percent of last year’s sales, and last year was a stellar year.” The success of the crop was due to correct weather conditions despite several rainy retail weekends.

Chicago Loans for SMEs

While Chicago ranks #3 in accommodating small businesses (boasting 230,000+ in its midst), unfortunately, the environment in which they should be thriving is not being nearly as accommodating as necessary. Given that the city’s principal banks seem to be more focused on big businesses, owners of SME’s and entrepreneurs are finding it increasingly difficult to get start-up loans from reputable sources.  As such, many “alternative” lenders are filling the niche and taking advantage of this situation in a less-than-legitimate manner.

It is often minority groups who pay the price.  Given that those struggling to obtain loans are usually minorities, women and veterans, vulnerability is running high.  As such Chicago has to come up with a new, more trustworthy solution.  One that is currently being promoted is SimpleGrowth – “the first lending platform built to strengthen the ability of Chicagoland small business owners to gain the capital they need to launch or grow their businesses.”

Should we look further afield to other parts of the state of Illinois, we find that SMEs are truly thriving.  the figures speak for themselves.  Currently approximately 1.2 million SMEs are in existence (lending employment to over 2.4 million individuals – comprising 46% of the private workforce).  These companies are providing incredibly “innovative solutions, meeting the needs of consumers, and pursuing their own dreams.”

Other resources available include the Illinois District of the U.S. Small Business Administration which has a branch in both Springfield and Chicago.  So there is good news in the Illinois area for small businesses; there just has to be more of a focus on giving a push start to struggling new firms in the Chicago region.

Great Start to New Year for SME’s

Right at the tail end of 2017, there was some great news for SME’s in the State of Illinois.  Thanks to legislation signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner fees incumbent upon LLC’s will be significantly lower. For example, whereas filing fee for new LLCs has been $500 until now, it will be slashed to $150 and annual report fees will go decline by $175 (from $250 to $75).

Along with being great news for businesses in the State, it is also sending a message of support from the government that they are seeking to help businesses grow.  According to Sean McCarthy, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director, this law – SB 867 – “helps alleviate unnecessary burdens to allow Illinois businesses to thrive.”

Another piece of good news for small businesses is the new legislation that will “level the playing field” against larger corporations in the bidding for state contracts.  Michael E. Hastings’ championed House Bill 3419 which has just gone into affect.  He said: “Large corporations that dodge taxes should not be earning taxpayer money. If businesses are going to use offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes, they should not be rewarded with taxpayer-funded state contracts and business. We need to give local businesses that play fair and pay their fair share of Illinois income taxes a chance to compete and be successful when they bid for state contracts. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. The more the state invests in them, the more they will invest in our great state.”

Illinois March to the Polls

Later this month – in conjunction with Women United Network and Action Illinois, Women’s March Chicago – is planning a March to the Polls.  Set for January 20, marches will take place in Chicago, Carbondale and Springfield and will be used to mark the first anniversary of the 2017 Women’s Marches.

The idea behind this is publicity; it is hoped that once people are made aware of what’s going on, women will get more involved with the 2018 general and primary elections as well as future ones.  Hopefully this will result in a larger turnout of women voters.

As well, the Women’s March fully promotes women’s rights, in particular: affordable childcare and healthcare; equal pay and rights; fair wages; freedom from violence and more.

As it is, Illinois is already faring better than the rest of the nation.  For the 2018 State House and Senate Primary Elections, the average female candidate percentage is a mere 36 percent.  but in Illinois, female participation in Primary’s will reach 41 percent in 2018 – which is a new high as well as the largest amount of female candidates vying for those seats in the last three election cycles.

However, even Illinois has a long way to go to bridge the gender gap.  Since 2012 there has only ever been one year whereby more women ran in Republican Primary Elections for State House or State Senate than in Democratic Primary Elections.  There were two increases however:  one with the House of Representatives and one with lieutenant governor (three women competed for the position).  At least it’s a start.

Illinois Tax

An “in-between” tax rate is coming to Illinois for 2017 earnings.  There was a tax increase in the state and thus the Illinois Department of Revenue calculated a “blended” rate of 4.35% following an increase of the basic rate (in July) from 3.75 to 4.95%.  According to Terry Horstman – spokesman for the Department of Revenue – this figure is based on the amount of days under the two different figures.  Tax forms will comprise the blended rate facilitating the process for taxpayers.  The rate is for income from January-December 2017. The increase in tax rates is in order to raise over $5.1 billion for the 2018 fiscal year.

There are potentially more tax increases in the pipeline too that will go toward recreation programs.  With a  tax property increase the Chicago Park District believes they will get closer to their proposed $462.3 million budget for park expansion and “special recreation programming” and sites.  This would only cost the average homeowner an additional $6.48 and would generate a staggering $7.6 million in revenue.

When it comes to wind energy firms in the state, the taxing model there has been “touted as one of the best in the country, bringing in $30.4 million in property taxes in 2016, according to economic experts.”  Whereas it’s common for most of the nation to implore a very patchy system, Illinois has a much more “consistent” one which began in 2007 after its legislature found its system of property tax assessments was so problematic and confusing when it came to wind companies.

Building Developments in Chicago

There have been some interesting new construction developments in the Windy City as of late.  Here, we discuss three of them: Fulton Market WeWork, the Johnson Publishing Building and the Starbucks on Canal Street.

Randy Rissman of Tiger Electronics is in the process of completing a deal to purchase a six-floor office building located at 210-220 N. Green Street in Fulton.  With a price tag of approximately $45 million, those selling the property (Shapack Partners, AJ Capital Partners and Shorenstein Properties) will make a tidy profit on what it paid originally – $6.8 million – in 2013.

The Johnson Publishing Building – located on South Michigan Avenue – is in the process of converting what has been office space to 150 apartments for rent.  This should start in the beginning of 2018 by 3L Real Estate which just acquired the construction from Columbia College.

Although it already has the largest Starbucks in Chicago, apparently that’s not good enough for the coffee tycoon.  Plans have been revealed to develop it to be more than double of its original size, adding 30,000 square feet in its 111 N. Canal Street building to cater to additional workers behind the scenes who are developing new concepts for the firm. Right now, its regional Chicagoan office is nearly 14,000 square feet, located at 564 W. Randolph Street.

Thriving Illinois Economy

Illinois University found in its November’s (monthly) Flash Economic Index that there is slow and steady growth in the state’s economy.  There was an increase of 3/10th of a point to 104-point-two from October, marking the end of a five-year low. Fred Giertz, who is an economist at the University, said that anything over 100 means growth and while it is “not [an] explosive growth” but still impressive and similar to what the economy has gone through nationwide in the last two quarters (3 percent).

In Will County, there has been impressive economic development too.  According to the Will County Center for Economic Development’s President and CEO, John Greuling, this year, Will County witnessed the creation of an additional 6,200 jobs, 21 million more square feet of space, $900 million in new investment and 40 business expansions.

Amazon, Ikea and General Mills built new warehouses, and the University of St. Francis and Joliet Junior College constructed new facilities. Silver Cross broke ground on a new 100-bed behavioral health center, Mars Candy moved into a 1.4 square foot complex, and four other 1 million square foot sites were built on speculation, he said. It all demonstrates a “high confidence” in Will County’s market, Greuling said.

Meanwhile for those looking to make some extra cash over the festive period, Rockford UPS is hiring.  They are looking for around 2,000 people in full- and part-time capacities as drivers, helpers and packers.

Small Business Saturday

On November 25, the entire country was able to celebrate Small Business Saturday. Chicago was not about to miss out.  Both owners of small businesses and consumers were able to benefit from what Chicago had to offer, especially at the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.  In fact, it’s one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Small Business Saturday has, over the years (since its inception in 2010), garnered a reputation for providing shoppers with better quality and more unique purchases.

Over in Bronzeville, there were around 20 local businesses that took the initiative to set up a spot where they sold their wares and which was especially useful for those selling pre-Christmas orders such as bakeries and decorative stores.

Meanwhile a new Andersonville store, Cowboys and Astronauts enjoyed great publicity as it had some great exposure.  After getting into the holiday spirit on Thanksgiving, this was the perfect opportunity to take it to the next level.

Traditional Chicagoan Fare

Wings, wings and more wings…Chicago is definitely known for its Buffalo wings and has some of the best ones nationwide.  This was recently ascertained in a Daily Meal ranking, which found the Windy City to be home to America’s top 25 wing establishments.   Three of those included in the list were: Superior and Wabash (no. 15), Buffalo Joe’s (19) and Bird’s Nest (20).

For Chicagoans looking for more of a nighttime activity, whereby cocktails and food are served, there is Point & Feather, run by restaurateur Adolfo Garcia. So much more than an eatery, there are 12 dart boards in the restaurant but it is not set up as an arcade or an official dart bar just “a really cool hangout that has darts machines blending in with elements of design.”   Vis-à-vis the food, the main elements are typically American and plate-sharing-encouraged.  Items include: short rib, burger, white fish, pork belly and cocktails go under names such as Queen of Thorns, Espadin Dreams and Twilight in Amsterdam.

Of course, for those looking for something that just spells out ‘Chicago,’ Schaller’s Pump is the city’s oldest restaurant and bar.  Established back in 1881 it has become quite the local legend, telling classic political and historical stories about Chicago and the White Sox.  Old-school food with no-frills booze, it’s a must-see for tourists and a “Cheers” type bar for locals.