World Business Chicago launches program to strengthen local businesses, boost economy

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A new vision is on the horizon for local, small business owners in Chicago as a cadre of successful Bronzeville entrepreneurs, joined about 75 attendees for the official announcement by World Business Chicago of its Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE) program. The event took place March 17, at the Blanc Chicago Art Gallery.

The new program will strengthen Chicago’s economy by creating ties between the city’s largest “anchor” institutions, and its neighborhood-based businesses. By doing so, WBC feels it will impact local firms, generate jobs, help grow the regional economy, increase community and neighborhood vitality and strengthen the region’s business-to-business platform.

Jeff Malehorn, president and CEO of World Business Chicago, said that CASE goes hand-in-hand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan for economic growth and jobs in Chicago. “It’s not just about large corporate success and within the central business district,” Malehorn told the Defender. “It’s about raising the economic opportunity for all of our neighborhood businesses, small and large. I’m very excited and I like the enthusiasm of the small business community here. They get it, and they understand that we’re working hard and trying to improve their ability to be competitive.”

According to World Business Chicago, CASE assesses anchor institutions’ product and service needs, comparing those needs with neighborhood business assets to make connections for local food suppliers of both goods and services. WBC contends tht some of the businesses will also have the opportunity to participate in training to prepare them to respond to those procurement needs. Then in turn, CASE businesses will have the opportunity to bid on contracts from any of the anchor institutions in the program.

Mayor Emanuel, who’s also the chairman of World Business Chicago, was emphatic that the city’s businesses are the backbone of Chicago’s economy. “The solution to our problems is right next door,” Emanuel said. “For a lot of small businesses, this is a great moment. You put the University of Chicago, IIT and Rush together, and you have good housekeeping which allows you to go to the next stage. We all know this about doing business. You achieve the first small success, and the second will be a lot easier.”

According to World Business Chicago, CASE aligns with the Mayor’s plan strategy to “develop and deploy neighborhood assets to align with regional economic growth.” The strategy also calls for promoting strong, well-connected neighborhoods that enhance regional growth, connecting neighborhood assets to regional systems by enabling better connections to labor, business, financial and other markets, as well as supporting the continuous development of human capital.

Cliff Rome, president of Rome’s Joy Catering and owner of several small businesses including H-Dogs and the Parkway Ballroom was in attendance, and said that CASE was beyond important for the continued economic empowerment of the South Side of Chicago.

“Sometimes, you have small businesses that are on the cusp of being successful,” Rome said. “But they can’t do what they need to, to make it happen. They don’t necessarily get the business that’s due to them simply because they don’t have the relationships. These anchor businesses are pretty much saying, we’ll give you the capacity.”

To date, anchor institutions that have committed to World Business Chicago’s CASE program include the City of Chicago, ComEd, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago Medical Center, Cook County, Rush University Medical Center, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois Chicago.

WBC will partner with the consulting group Next Street (nationally recognized for its success with anchor institutions and small and medium-sized business development) to develop and launch the program. WBC says additional support will be provided by a group of leading organizations focused on community and neighborhood economic growth.

CASE is made possible by a grant from the Polk Bros. Foundation, and contributions from member anchor institutions. Anchor institutions can include hospitals and health care centers, educational institutions, government and civic institutions and large corporations—notably those that are headquartered in the Chicago region. CASE will add anchor institutions members throughout 2014.

Participating businesses are chosen based upon criteria set by the participating anchor institutions, and Next Street. The criteria include having a local presence, a proven track-record indicating the strong likelihood of success as an anchor supplier, and product alignment with anchor procurement needs.

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