Business Collaboration and Growth

Last month saw the launch of a regional economic development initiative to bolster partnership within various public sectors. It is hoped that this endeavor – the Chicago Regional Growth Corporation (CRGC) – will create growth, be mutually beneficial to participating organizations and in general boost the work of northeastern Illinois businesses.

CRGC can be used by locals for creating and developing Chicago’s identity, bolstering economic development and centralize programming. ultimately it is hoped and expected that the endeavor will fortify the economy, develop networks and connections and provide greater economic opportunity. As founding executive director of CRGC Tom Hulsman said:

“The economic growth of cities, from neighborhoods to suburbs, is highly interdependent. We have a huge opportunity to capitalize on our resources and bring all of the players to the table to set an economic development agenda that works for the entire region, with a strong emphasis on inclusive economic growth throughout all of CRGC’s programs and initiatives.”

Over in Matteson, Mayor Sheila Chalmers-Currin, discussed with locals about her mission to “feed the economy” there. People are very excited for this and as the Mayor pointed out, it should be “a great opportunity to share what we have in our focus for the Village and the Southland region. I’ve lived here for 35 years and I’ve seen the village grow from 10,000 to over 20,000. We’ve had some positive events and we have had some challenges,”

Chicago: Tax Time!

Taxes are due pretty soon.  What does this mean for Chicagoans and how can they get assistance if needed?

There are various organizations and websites offering help.  Ladder Up representatives went to Olive Harvey College to offer free tax filing assistance a couple of weeks ago at the beginning of the Tax-A-Thon. As well as a tax problem-solving workshop, representatives from John Marshall Law School’s Fair Housing clinic were on hand to give tips too.

The aim of Ladder Up is to get the entitled tax deductions and refunds for everyone.  Anyone whose income is less than $30,000 (families $55,000) can get free tax preparation assistance.

There is also this article written in The Chicago Tribune that provides guidelines and tips as well as this one from NBC Chicago.

For pet owners in Chicago, there are various tax breaks you can get.  Examples include: guard dogs, cats used for pest control, pets used in hobbies (sometimes, such as dog shows in which they could be seen as a hobby income), foster animal care (with Schedule A in charitable deductions), moving expenses (if you have to transfer your pet to a different home).

Triumphant Women of Chicago

Women are Chicago are strong, authoritative and successful.  This has been the  message across the different industries in business recently.  First, there was The Women’s March on 20 January whereby 250,000 women “marchers [came] together in downtown Chicago at the intersection of Congress and Columbus to celebrate the spirit of the resistance efforts over the past year and unite to focus on the 2018 elections and beyond.”

But that was not just a stand-alone event.  Prior to the march, there was a rally that took place between 11 a.m and 12:30 p.m. between Congress Parkway and Columbus Drive, featuring local speakers who discussed:

  1. women’s rights,
  2. getting women in more powerful official/government positions,
  • DACA recipients and Dreamers – deportation issues
  1. the ongoing struggle need for equality and fair representation of all citizens in the electoral system.

Speaker Asha Binbek of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, denounced President’s Trump’s platform of ‘Mak[ing] America Great Again,’ arguing that

Our different backgrounds, should be celebrated. Our race, our gender, our sexual orientation, our religion, whether you were born on this soil or sought refuge here or a future being able to come here to celebrate each other and support each other’s causes. This, THIS, is what makes America great!” Our need to be civically engaged has never been more important than it is now!”

At the end of last year, EvolveHer was launched.  Two factors are of note here in terms of timing: a) the #metoo campaign and b) the Women’s March.  While the concept of a co-working space exclusively for women is not a new one, it has been welcomed in Chicago.  With 5,000 square feet in office space, there are standard office amenities (kitchen, lounge, phone booths, etc.) and also those specific to women (milk pumping rooms, make up areas etc.). Women-related workshops are also held on subjects such as “finding your purpose,” and it is hoped that in the future 7-14 year old girls will be offered basic business classes. As Alicia Driskill, company founder pointed out:

“We have such great women’s groups and female entrepreneur vibes in Chicago, but there’s really no place to centralize it and bring us all together. We really wanted to create community, and be community driven, so that women can get to know each other and really elevate each other and support each other on the business front.”

The space can hold approximately 100 people working at once and the networking potential for these already powerful women is amazing.

Illinois Economy: Slow and Steady

Measuring in at 104-point-one at the end of last year, the Flash Index from Illinois University’s final reading supports a ‘slow and steady’ prediction for the region’s economy.  The figure – a decrease of one tenth of a percent from November – is still on a growth spurt as anything more than 100 is indicative of an escalating economy.

However, despite this, Fred Giertz, an economist with the University of Illinois, thinks the growth is actually slower than the rest of America’s economy.  This could in part be due to Illinois’ “unsettled politics and finances.”  He believes that:

“The bad news is it could have been a lot better and the good news is it could have been a lot worse. So, I think we’re moving along all right and maybe things will start growing faster in the New Year.”

Meanwhile, specifically in Chicago, the city’s “post-recession rebound” is much greater than its neighboring suburbs.  In 2017, the number of private sector jobs there got to the highest ever level in more than two-and-a-half decades.  According to preliminary data published by the Illinois Department of Employment Security there was a 16.6 percent increase in 2017 since 2010 (during the Great Recession), way above the national 15.7 percent average growth.

 

Bolstering Businesses

There are many ways to help people begin a business and develop it.  Here in Illinois we take a look at a few examples.

First, the Fondulac Bank is offering a free workshop on Starting a Business in Illinois.  Co-sponsored by Bradley University’s Illinois Small Business Development Center and the Morton Community Bank, it is open to everyone.

One can never be too young to start the preparation needed for getting a job.  Since – according to a recent report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics – within the next two years there will be over a million unfilled tech jobs – now is the time to start prepping young kids to get qualified.  As such STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) education is crucial.  Particularly for girls, since they are less likely to get coding classes, but it’s also important for boys.  Thankfully, such classes are cropping up a lot in the Chicago areas.  One is, Code Play Learn opened by William Greenwald in 2013 because as he explains:

“Although not everyone will become a doctor or a scientist, it’s important that everyone have a basic scientific knowledge about how the human body works. I feel the same way about coding; I don’t expect everyone to become a programmer, but I do believe that it is critical that everyone gets a fundamental understanding of how technology works and how it is built.”

In addition, Coonley Elementary School students have been privy to coding lessons (from kindergarten to fifth grade!) thanks to Instructional Technology Coach Nicole Zumpano in an effort to: “expose students to coding, so that as they grow older they feel it becomes an option for them to pursue and they will already have some fundamental knowledge about it.”

There are also various community economic development programs springing up in the region such as Creating Economic Opportunities program, The Small Business Development Center and the Community and Economic Development Summits which seek to “align institutional resources with community and regional needs.”  According to Joe Rives, Co-Chair of the PEI, and Vice President of the WIU Quad Cities Campus and Planning,  “CED Summits are important to the state’s economy as we work to recruit and retain a highly skilled workforce for the 21st century in Illinois. Our work is achieved by helping to advance community and/or regional goals expressed in existing economic development plans. [The PEI]  is also working with] businesses and industries of all shapes and sizes, from an individually owned and operated company, to Forbes Fortune 100 companies.”

 

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.