Building New Bridges: An Interview With WBC’s CEO Andrea Zopp

None of us have a clear vision to where our journey will carry us. Many will follow the educational and trade path—leading to an adequate profession while we go where the wind blows. Nonetheless, there are dips, turns—and it feels good when we reach the top.

World Business Chicago CEO, Andrea Zopp

Andrea Zopp has achieved what most of us would only dream of in this lifetime—climbing up through the ranks working in the US Attorney’s office; serving as First Assistant for the Cook County State’s Attorney transitioning into the private sector of a Chicago Law firm, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, and serving in senior executive positions at Sara Lee, Sears Holdings Corp. and Exelon Corp. She’s also taken on the role as president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. Her 2015 bid for US Senator launched her into the public eye, as she traveled statewide—meeting Illinoisans from the North Shore to downstate—getting a better understanding of different communities’ needs and resources. Defeated by Democratic party endorsed, then-Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth—she didn’t lick her wounds but instead accepted the position of Deputy Mayor offered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Transitioning Back to The Private Sector

For nearly 18 months, Zopp was the liaison between the Mayor and the community. Her business savvy and knowledge of the corporate business model and small businesses put her in a unique position to help the mayor’s office look at broadening their outreach into the neighborhoods. More so, after a countless number of police misconduct allegations, lawsuits and school closings—relationships between the current administration was on life support and having someone with Zopp’s background and outreach was a welcomed change.

Zopp joined World Business Chicago (WBC) in November 2017 as the new CEO. WBC is a public-private, non-profit partnership that promotes economic growth, job creation and supports businesses while attracting others to consider making Chicago their business hub. Now, in its 17th year, she says WBC’s core mission is to “recruit companies to the city and help the businesses in Chicago area expand and grow.”

She adds, “Also to help grow the city’s presence globally–[become] a place for international businesses to invest.”

“I’m really thrilled to be here at WBC. It’s a natural transition for a number of broad roles for me personally. We’re a public nonprofit where we get private money but also get TIF money from the city. The mayor serves as the chair of our board. We serve to drive economic opportunity to the city. To be back in a nonprofit but private sector and working with the business community is great,” she said.

This is not her first time being a part of WBC’s efforts to come up with a comprehensive plan for neighborhood businesses.

“When the mayor came in 2011, he put together a steering committee which I participated on when I was at the Chicago Urban League… to create the plan for economic growth and jobs. It was an economic development plan; how do we grow the city and what is the strategies in order to do that?” She explained the plan was supported by many companies.

We came up with ten strategies that focused on workforce, neighborhood development, tech, manufacturing and a number of other areas. Over the last two and a half years, WBC worked on implementing access of the plans and have a number of initiatives to come out of that plan, including a number of incubator spin-offs…a place called Current which is focused on water and water technology along with M-Hub which focus on manufacturing.”

WBC also received a large grant from the government for the digital labs program. Other WBC programs which includes: Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE), Connect Chicago, ChicagoNEXT and others.

Helping Small Businesses Grow

Working closely with the mayor’s Neighborhood Development and Dept. of Planning, the WBC is dedicated as another source of outreach for Chicago small businesses. As they move into building their infrastructure and team, Bernita Johnson Gabriel recently joined the organization as Executive Vice President for Neighborhoods and Strategic Initiatives. Gabriel was formerly senior advisor for neighborhood development and housing for the mayor’s office.

Zopps says, “When we talk to businesses who take an interest in coming to Chicago, expanding their idea on where they should go…. Would you be interested in coming into a neighborhood whether it’s for an office space or a manufacturing plant? We have a woman who is focused on that work and we have someone focused on workforce initiatives. The team would also be working on supporting small businesses. We have a small but mighty team here working with the other existing teams.” 

Although Mayor Emanuel is the chair for World Business Chicago, Zopp points out they work separately from the city but are “aligned.” They are very involved with the efforts to recruit Amazon to the city for their second Headquarters.

The group continues to celebrate the achievements of Chicago’s tech community. And recently, WBC with Blackstone launched the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge program.

“Part of that last year, we received a grant from Blackstone to help expand opportunities for more diverse businesses in the tech market. We have a number of organizations that are participating in that, from women, veteran’s program—Bethel New Life, Blue 1647, 1847—those organizations are working on identifying and supporting diverse tech entrepreneurs.

In bringing together businesses beyond the city of Chicago, Zopp and her team are working with the Chicago Regional Growth Corporation. They are working with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and seven local counties to form a regional base economic development which we’re working on with the county and all of the seven local counties into the group we formed to do regional base economic development.

Tackling the challenges of the recession recovery for business owners on the Westside, Southside and the Northwest side are on WBC’s radar to provide resources. But, the Harvard Law graduate has entered a new chapter in helping businesses thrive because she says it provides job opportunities and an opening for “middle class” families to stay in their communities.

“Being in a nonprofit and independent entity gives you more flexibility than working in government. We can work more closely with the business community, to bring more resources in the city,” Zopp reflects.  “We’re very fortunate that we have a business community that understands and are committed to the city thriving. As a result, they support an organization like us—whether it’s related to them or not because they understand.”

For more information on World Business Chicago, visit: 

Revised: 2/14/18 at 11:01am

Follow Mary L. Datcher on Twitter @globalmixx or Instagram @mdatcher


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