Author: North Branch Works

Goose Island Summit highlights need for infrastructure upgrades

In carrying out its valuable role as a planned manufacturing district, Goose Island makes a major contribution to the well-being of Chicago’s economy.

A manmade island with a rich industrial legacy, Goose Island is approximately 160 acres and runs in the Chicago River from Chicago Avenue to North Avenue.

To ensure Goose Island remains a vibrant place to work and do business, North Branch Works recently convened the 2nd Annual Goose Island Summit, bringing together nearly forty businesses with city leaders, including 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Samir Mayekar, along with representatives from DPD, CDOT, and CTA, to identify top priorities and action steps.

Although the one-hour dialogue covered many topics, businesses consistently identified the urgent need for infrastructure upgrades that create safe access to and from Goose Island as well as the immediate surrounding neighborhood areas.

Participants heard updates from ongoing and future planned projects such as:

  • The removal of train tracks on Cherry St. between North Branch Street and the dead end at the north end of the island
  • The replacement of the Division Street Bridge, a vital connector for goods and services across the island, and installation of a new stop sign.
  • The ridership levels that would be required for the Chicago Transit Authority to resume the CTA #132 Goose Island Express Bus.

With new companies expected to move to Goose Island, there’ll be tremendous demand for alternative modes of transportation such as walking and biking and fast and reliable bus service.

And we know investments in infrastructure will return tremendous economic development benefits, especially on Goose Island, which is home to major companies and family-owned businesses including Mars Wrigley, Waste Management, MxD, FedEx, Amazon, Calihan Catering, and Gold Coast Auto Body.

And by attracting and retaining industrial businesses, Goose Island ensures that high-quality jobs with family-sustaining wages that require only middle skills are available to all Chicagoans.

As a significant part of our service area, North Branch Works is dedicated to serving and advocating for the business community on Goose Island so it can continue to offer high-quality jobs and serve as a major contributor to healthy neighborhoods.

With questions and to get involved in moving this work forward, please contact Steve Simmons, Director of Business and Economic Development, 773-929-5552 x2226,

Image credit: Port Urbanism

Register for North Branch Works’ Fall Fundraiser

Looking for a fun and socially-distanced way to support family-sustaining jobs and local businesses? Then please join us for our Fall Fundraiser on Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

Supporting our work is a great way to help businesses and nonprofits get started, grow, and thrive. Our entertaining one-hour program will feature incredible local businesses such as:

  • Metropolitan Brewing, a woman-owned business that specializes in brewing German style lagers and is located at Rockwell on the River.
  • mHub Chicago, a hardtech and manufacturing innovation center that helps entrepreneurs launch new businesses by taking physical products from concept to prototype to production.
  • Guild Row, a membership-based social club in Avondale for the artisanally curious.

Along the way, you’ll hear from our friends at the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council about our partnership to grow and strengthen minority businesses in our service area.

The program also includes an expert drink-making demonstration from KOVAL Distillery. And we expect to add a few mystery guests to the lineup shortly.

Our Fall Fundraiser will be an evening of fun and entertainment; we hope you can join us.  Thank you for supporting businesses, high-quality jobs, and sustainable economic development in Chicago.

The suggested donation is $50; however, donations in any amount are greatly appreciated. To purchase a ticket, please click here.

With questions, please contact Steve Simmons, 773-929-5552 x2226,


North Branch Works leads new push for a safe Rockwell Street

If you’ve ever traveled to Avondale businesses on Rockwell Street between Elston and Belmont Avenues, then you know it’s not an easy area to get around by foot, bike, and car.

And having safe and easy access to businesses is smart public policy that would create many benefits including local jobs, business growth and development, and keep local dollars circulating in the neighborhood.

For these important reasons, North Branch Works is working hard to upgrade the infrastructure by convening local businesses, neighborhood residents, and key stakeholders to inform plans for a safe and accessible Rockwell Street.

This neighborhood area is home to many incredible destinations such as Rockwell on the River, Metropolitan Brewing, Metropolis Coffee, Guild Row, Bash Sports Academy, and the Alley.

Presently, this part of Rockwell St. (pictured above facing south towards Elston) lacks sidewalks in either direction, making it difficult for people on foot to navigate safely between local businesses and nearby residential areas.

And it’s even harder for people walking during peak travel times as drivers use the street as a shortcut to access the expressway via Belmont Avenue.

To build broad community support for safety upgrades, we recently convened a Rockwell St. Infrastructure Task Force meeting for approximately thirty businesses and neighborhood stakeholders in partnership with 33rd Ward Ald. Rossana Rodriguez and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CD0T).

Participants heard an update on initial findings from an ongoing traffic study being carried out by CDOT and had the opportunity to inform initial design concepts and next steps.

The study found that 300 bicyclists use this area daily. And that number is only expected to increase with the completion of the 312 RiverRun Trail as well as the prospect of a continuous Chicago River Trail.

Some of the initial design concepts include adding dedicated space for people walking and biking in addition to having vehicle lanes in both directions. Making these types of upgrades will improve public safety and create a more orderly way of getting around the area (pictured above right Rockwell St at Elston Avenue facing south).

Unfortunately, CDOT does not have any funding to build improvements at this time.

North Branch Works will continue to partner with local businesses, neighborhood stakeholders, and city leaders to move this important work forward though research, outreach, and bringing people together.

So what are the next steps and how can you get involved?

We’re excited to announce the launch of the Rockwell Street Area Advisory Committee, which is open to the public as well as any businesses and stakeholders interested in helping shape and advance a new vision for Rockwell St.

With questions and to join the committee, please contact Steve Simmons, Director of Business and Economic Development, 773-929-5552 x2226,

Image credit: Chicago Department of Transportation


CharityWatch promotes informed charitable giving

Having accurate information to make wise giving decisions has never been more important. And that’s central to the mission of CharityWatch, an independent watchdog organization that does in-depth analysis of nonprofits so donors can give confidently to organizations where their gifts will have the greatest impact.

Launched in 1992 as the American Institute of Philanthropy, the founder, Daniel Borochoff, saw a tremendous need for an independent monitor to oversee charitable giving due to a lack of publicly available information at that time.

Located in Chicago since 2002, CharityWatch educates the public about charitable giving by regularly updating its reports for over 600 nonprofit organizations in its rating system; every year it adds about fifteen new charities. CharityWatch also publishes articles on its website; they along with its ratings and reports on top-rated charities are freely available to view.

And what makes Charity Watch’s ratings incredibly valuable is the detailed and thorough analysis of financial statements that goes into each one. In fact, Congress has called upon CharityWatch multiple times for expert testimony regarding the nonprofit sector and charitable giving.

So you can have confidence that gifts you make to CharityWatch’s top-rated nonprofits will support mission-related work and not fraud or wrongdoing.

Because its independence is essential, CharityWatch is funded primarily by small contributions from individual donors.  One way you can support CharityWatch is to join as a member for $50 annually, which provides full access to content on its website as well as two issues of its bi-annual paper publication, the Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report.

And if you happen to work for a company or foundation, you can join as an organizational member. The suggested donation level is $500; however, contributions in any amount are greatly appreciated.

Along with rating nonprofits, CharityWatch frequently partners with investigative journalists and helps them research wrongdoing in the nonprofit sector. Staff speak regularly with media such as the New York Times, Newsweek, CNN, and the Associated Press.

CharityWatch partnered with 60 Minutes on a high profile collaboration that exposed the financial improprieties of Greg Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea and Pennies for Charity.”

It’s a great example of the organization’s dynamic work; you can view the 60 Minutes segment and see more examples here.

North Branch Works is a proud neighbor of CharityWatch in the Green Exchange and thrilled to welcome them as our newest member. We highly recommend reaching out to CharityWatch if your business wants to review its charitable giving.

Staff is also exploring the possibility of providing technical assistance services to companies related to their giving programs. Stay tuned for future partnership opportunities.

And be sure to follow CharityWatch for the latest news and updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Laurie Styron is the Executive Director of CharityWatch, taking over from the founder who retired in February 2020.

With questions and to connect with CharityWatch, please reach out here.





MBDA Export Center connects minority businesses to Africa

The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Export Center is a dynamic resource that builds mutually beneficial partnerships between minority businesses and thriving markets in Africa.

Because 95% of consumers are located outside of the United States, international markets offer incredible opportunities for minority businesses and entrepreneurs. And by 2025, Africa is projected to have 1.4 billion consumers with an average age of 30.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce and operated by the Chicago MSDC, the MBDA Export Center connects minority businesses with commercial and government buyers, financing and bonding resources, and domestic and global teaming partners.

And if you are a minority business, you can access technical assistance across a variety of important business topics such as identifying new global markets, export referral services, export capital, and risk insurance.

Some of the countries you can connect with through the MBDA Export Center include Gabon, South Africa, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.

Prior to the pandemic, you could visit the MBDA Export Center at 216 W Jackson Blvd. Suite 600. Currently, the Export Center has pivoted to making all of its programming available virtually.

Speaking of which, the MBDA Export Center just wrapped up a major virtual conference, the 2020 Diaspora Investment and Trade Deal Event (see below right), which connected minority businesses with opportunities to engage with and learn from businesses and government officials from Africa and the African Diaspora.

Over the course of its five-year history, the Chicago MBDA Export Center has served over a thousand firms, providing business counseling and important connections to major-buying organizations in Africa.

And it’s an especially important time to make these connections: U.S. trade to and from Africa has tripled over the last decade; U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa now top $21 billion and sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow 7% GDP annually.

For these reasons and many others, Chicago is fortunate to be home to the MBDA Export Center. It’s one of only four centers funded by the MBDA across the country with the mission of ensuring minority businesses have access to resources that help them compete in local and global markets.

And the Chicago MSDC and MBDA Export Center recently launched the Pathways to Africa Initiative, which is designed to promote American companies doing business in Africa.

The MBDA Export Center is a wonderful resource that compliments Chicago MSDC’s work to certify, develop and advocate for minority-owned businesses as well as the comprehensive services offered by the MBDA Business Center.

For the latest updates, be sure to follow the MBDA Export Center on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

North Branch Works is proud to partner with the Chicago MSDC, MBDA Business Center, and MBDA Export Center in our work to grow, develop, and support minority businesses in our service area.

To connect with the MBDA Export Center, please contact Patricia Hanes, Director Export Center, 312-755-2553,


City economic development programs return great value

As the City of Chicago begins to develop its budget for next year, it’s important to keep in mind that economic development programs for neighborhood businesses have never been more valuable.

Because the pandemic and recent social unrest have affected businesses in numerous ways, organizations like North Branch Works require flexibility to meet ever-changing business needs.

Every day, we provide a variety of crucial support services to businesses as a delegate city agency through two programs: the Neighborhood Business Development Center (NBDC), funded by the Chicago Department of Business and Consumer Protection, and the Local Industrial Retention Initiative (LIRI), funded by the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.

And to give you an idea of our annual impact, we consult with over 108 business through LIRI and over 72 new businesses through NBDC. Our program area includes all or parts of the following city wards: 2, 27, 32, 33, 35, 42, 43, 44, and 47.

Our NBDC services include helping new businesses navigate the city’s licensing process, transition from startups into mature and growing businesses, and access financial resources such as grants and low-interest loans.

Recently, North Branch Works promoted grants available through Chicago’s Together Now Fund and the State of Illinois’ Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program. As a result, one of our member businesses secured a $20k grant to help cover the costs of having to suspend operations during the pandemic.

Our NBDC work also allows us to build strong relationships with businesses and identify candidates for our low-interest small business loan program, which is another resource that can be leveraged for business growth.

And through LIRI, we advocate for and support larger industrial businesses. Retaining industrial jobs is crucial because they pay family-sustaining wages and require middle skills—often only two years beyond high school.

As a central part of LIRI, North Branch Works regularly convenes Infrastructure Task Force meetings to identify and push for business-friendly improvements to the built environment.

Some of our recent wins include the installation of a new stop sign on Goose Island, providing up to date information about the upcoming Division Street Bridge project as well as the update to the Halsted Triangle Plan, and participating in the Lincoln Yards Community Advisory Council.

The LIRI program also allows us to connect businesses directly to valuable city programs such as the Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF), TIFWorks, and TIF 50/50. These programs can cover all or some of the costs of building upgrades for your business and training your workforce.

North Branch Works urges Mayor Lightfoot and City Council Members to commit to increasing funding for these essential neighborhood economic development programs in the 2021 budget.

These economic development programs support our vision of a thriving business sector along the North Branch that would bring many benefits to Chicago including family-sustaining jobs, increased revenues to the city, and a strong and healthy consumer base.

If you are a business and would like to explore how our services could benefit you, please contact Steve Simmons, Director of Business and Economic Development, 773-929-5552 x2226,

Small Accessible Repairs for Seniors program strengthens communities

Being able to live comfortably at home has never been more important. And for this reason, we’re grateful to operate the Small Accessible Repairs for Seniors (SARFS) program, which allows us to make upgrades to help residents enjoy a high quality of life.

Funded by the Chicago Department of Housing, SARFS is a free program for eligible seniors. To qualify for SARFS, you must be at least 60 years old and meet the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s income requirement, which is an annual income that’s not higher than $58,250 for two-people.

And you can participate in the program if you are a homeowner or renter, living in a single-family home or multi-family buildings with one-to-four units.

SARFS covers the cost of repairing and installing safety equipment, security improvements, and other items that make it easier to live at home. We can fix and/or install fire extinguishers as well as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

And we can make improvements to floors, steps, and doors. The program also pays for the cost of accessibility upgrades such as grab bars, transfer benches, tub-assist bars, chair-height toilets, faucets, handrails and handheld showers.

North Branch Works is one of several city delegate agencies that offer the program. We can work with you if you live in one of the following city wards: 1, 2, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35, and 37.

If you happen to live outside these wards, please call us anyway as we’re happy to connect you with the agency in your neighborhood.

In fact, we often make referrals to the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County (CEDA), 311, and the City of Chicago’s Roof and Porch Programs.

Our dedicated program manager, Misty LeBlanc (pictured below), walks seniors through the eligibility process from the initial phone call, meets them in their homes for consultations, and does well-being checks during extreme temperatures.

When you come into our program, you gain the many benefits of a community that cares deeply about you.

Recently, our field manager, Reggie Hamilton (pictured below right), was in East Garfield Park, wrapping up a job that included multiple repairs such as replacing drywall and rebuilding an external door frame.

Because we’re fortunate to have a carpenter on our staff, we can complete jobs quickly after receiving approval from the city.

Prior to the pandemic, North Branch Works regularly completed jobs on thirty-three homes annually per our city contract.

Despite COVID-19, we have been working hard to finish as many jobs as possible because we know they make a major contribution to quality of life; we’re on track to complete twenty-homes this year.

North Branch Works is proud to be completing our tenth year of running the SARFS program. And we’d love to increase the number of jobs we can complete due to high demand in our neighborhoods.

Toward that end, we’re actively looking for funding to expand the program.

With inquiries/questions about SARFS, please contact Misty LeBlanc, Program Manager,, 773-929-5552 x2235.

Chicago MBDA Business Center, an incredible resource for minority businesses

During these challenging times, ensuring minority businesses have access to resources to grow and flourish is essential. And we’re fortunate in Chicago to have a wealth of resources available to minority businesses at the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Chicago Business Center, located at 216 W. Jackson Boulevard, Suite 600.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the MBDA Business Center is operated by the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council (MSDC), an organization with a successful history of growing and supporting minority business enterprises (MBEs).

The MBDA Business Center connects minority businesses with capital, contracts, and emerging markets. And it supports the minority business community by advocating on its behalf and developing partnerships with local, state, and federal government agencies, major corporations, and banks with the overall goal of creating larger and more strategic minority entrepreneurs.

The MBDA Business Center carries out its mission by providing workshops and consultations across a diverse range of business topics such as financing, bonding assistance, mergers and acquisitions, education and training, networking, advocacy, procurement, and export and international trade assistance.

The MBDA Business Center has achieved great success to date, having assisted over 1200 MBEs obtain $2.5 billion in contracts, $800 million in financing, and create over 5,000 family-sustaining jobs.

If you happen to be a minority business owner, we encourage you to take advantage of the resources available at the MBDA Business Center, which works with businesses of all sizes and can help you connect with major-buying organizations and successfully expand your business.

And if your business is looking for an equity partner, corporate trainings, and information on how to diversify your supply chain—the MBDA Business Center can assist you and would love to discuss partnering with you.

Prior to the pandemic, you could visit the center for appointments and take workshops. Currently, the MBDA Business Center has pivoted to providing its resources and technical support virtually.

And in response to COVID-19, the Chicago MSDC launched a new initiative, the MBDA CARES Act Center; it offers training, education and counseling to help small and minority businesses recover from the pandemic. The CARES Act provides fast and direct economic assistance to American workers, families, and small businesses and preserves jobs in American industries.

North Branch Works is proud to partner with the Chicago MBDA Business Center, MBDA Cares Act Center and Chicago MSDC in our work to grow and support minority businesses in our service area.

To connect with the Chicago MBDA Center, please contact Dave Thomas (pictured right), Operator/Project Director, 312-755-2563,

For more information about the MBDA Cares Act Center, please contact:
Reuben Hamilton, MBDA Cares Act Coordinator, 773-554-9338, and
Lenora Harris, MBDA Cares Act Program Assistant, 773-530-9076,

Image credits: Chicago MBDA Business Center

Connecting North Branch Works members to financial resources

During these challenging times for businesses, our staff is working hard to identify city, state, and federal funding opportunities and help our members secure them.

Recently, we were thrilled to help two members successfully obtain $20k grants from the State of Illinois’ Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program. This grant will help the business cover the cost of having to suspend operations between March and April due to the pandemic.

Our staff did the research and determined our members were eligible. Then we contacted our members; we’re grateful they applied promptly. Along the way, we facilitated a connection between the business owner and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which proved valuable when the state later decided to extend the grant deadline, making it possible for them to apply.

It’s great to see state resources coming into our service area to support our member businesses. And we’re continuing to encourage and support members in applying for opportunities like Chicago’s Together Now Fund, which recently accepted applications from businesses and nonprofits for grants of up to $4,000 to cover operating expenses.

Another financial resource to keep in mind is our low-interest Small Business Loan program. We can make loans of up to $25,000 to startups and up to $50,000 to established businesses. And in some cases, we can loan larger amounts.

There’s nothing we’d like more than to support businesses right now with these resources. Please find more information about the loan program here, including the list of eligible neighborhoods.

One of the best member benefits we provide is our staff capacity to find grants and valuable opportunities for your business. We understand the demands of running a business likely consume all your time.

For this reason, we’d love to support you by doing research and advocacy on your behalf and connecting you to other businesses in the North Branch community so dollars are spent locally as much as possible.

And we’d be grateful for the opportunity to help your business secure funding like we did recently with the BIG grant. It’s a great example of the value of being a North Branch Works member.

If you’d like to join North Branch Works, please contact Steve Simmons, 773-929-5552 x2226,

ChicagoMSDC strengthens minority businesses

During this time of social unrest, many businesses are looking for opportunities to advance a racially equitable future. Fortunately, the city is home to the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council (CMSDC), a corporate sponsorship-based organization with a successful history of growing and cultivating minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs).

ChicagoMSDC plays four primary roles; it certifies, develops, connects, and advocates for MBEs. The organization has corporate members and creates partnerships between major-buying organizations and minority-owned suppliers.

Founded in 1968 after social unrest rocked Chicago, ChicagoMSDC responded by launching the Chicago Business Opportunity Day, which brought together corporate and community leaders determined to create opportunities for low-income communities.

As a result of its success, this event was re-named the Chicago Business Opportunity Fair, which continues to flourish to this day as the organization’s premier annual event and is wrapping up its 53rd Annual Event.

And ChicagoMSDC is one of 23 affiliates of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) which was founded in 1972 to increase procurement and business opportunities for minority businesses of all sizes.

Currently, ChicagoMSDC’s members include over 250 public-and-private-sector buying organizations and nearly 1,000 minority-owned businesses in Chicago, Northwest Indiana, and St. Louis. And this partnership is incredibly successful; buying members report spending over $3 billion annually while MBEs employ over 20,000 workers in family-sustaining jobs.

In order to certify as an MBE, at least 51% of a business must be owned by people who are Asian, Black, Hispanic, or Native American.  If your business meets this requirement, you don’t have to do it alone; ChicagoMSDC can help you–it certifies over 300 MBEs annually, usually taking about 90 days to certify.

And August is National Black Business Month. Be sure to follow ChicagoMSDC on Twitter and Facebook for success stories of Black-owned businesses in the Chicago region. You can also look them up by searching #blackbizmonthchi and #chicagomsdc.

Recently, Chicago MSDC welcomed a new President and CEO, J. Vincent Williams (right). He brings extensive experience managing small business development and succession and building valuable community partnerships from the public and private sector. He knows that we have an unprecedented moment to push for supplier diversity.

The good news is many businesses and community leaders are looking to ChicagoMSDC for leadership during these challenging times. Vince and his staff have never been busier.

North Branch Works is honored to partner with ChicagoMSDC in our work to grow and strengthen minority-owned businesses in our service area. We highly recommend reaching out to ChicagoMSDC if you’d like to get involved and support minority-owned business development and family-sustaining jobs in Chicagoland.

Please contact Shondra Watson-Wilson, Director of Strategic Partnerships, 773-755-2552 or

Image credits: Chicago MSDC