CEDA CEO Robert Wharton talks about 'ingredients' of success

Since taking the helm of the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County (CEDA) more than a decade ago, Robert Wharton beamed with pride about the organizations’- growth and what’s yet to come.

Since taking the helm of the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County (CEDA) more than a decade ago, Robert Wharton beamed with pride about the organizations’- growth and what’s yet to come.

CEDA is one of the nation’s largest non-profit organizations that serves more than 375,000 individuals each year and operates over 40 programs throughout Cook County in the areas of education, housing, economic development, family and children services, health and nutrition, among others.

Wharton, the organization’s president and chief executive officer who has been with the organization since 1983, talked with the Defender about the “three ingredients” of CEDA’s success.

“Hiring good people, effective planning–both short and long range, and the use of technology are the main attributes to our success. We have to have the same mindset of for-profit organizations. Our bottom line may vary, but we all want to get the most out of what we have,” said Wharton, who became CEDA’s president in 1997.

The South Carolina native settled into the Chicagoland area in the early 1940s and attended Evanston Township High School before earning a bachelors degree in English from Kentucky State University. He then went into the public service arena as a teacher.

Soon thereafter he yearned for more in the sector, but from a policy standpoint. He obtained a masters degree in Public Administration from Roosevelt University and went to work for the federal government on poverty programs for several years before joining CEDA.

“I’ve always had deep feelings for helping people and public service was where I wanted to go and help at the grassroots level, in a way. When I came we (CEDA) were about a $12 million organization. Now, we’re at nearly $200 million. We’ve increased our ability to help more people in a lot more ways,” said Wharton, who was named the 2008 Business Man of the Year at last year’s Minority Business Expo.

Whether it’s providing utility funding assistance to those in need, offering small business loans or providing scholarships to youth, the organization strives to provide more resources, he said.

New technology and the creation of a bank is on the horizon for CEDA.

“Implementing new technology to improve our communication and give us the capacity to reach out more in the community is one of our visions. We’re implementing a voice-over internet system that will allow us to take on partners in the community and meets some of the gaps in accessibility in low-income communities and also allow us to do some economic development,” said Wharton.

The chief executive officer said the organization is proud when they’re able to grant loans to small businesses, however, CEDA having its own bank would allow them to expand exponentially, and provide employment.

“By creating a bank and offering more product, we think we can empower and create more jobs. We would be able to increase our capital and do far more than we currently do,” he said.

Wharton added, “We’re always looking at how we can enhance our fundraising and resource development.”

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