Tag: Economic development

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, steve@northbranchworks.org

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 swatsonwilson@chicagomsdc.org.

Image credits: Chicago MSDC

Rockwell on the River, an incredible destination along Chicago River

Summer is not over yet; you can have plenty of socially-distant fun on the cobblestone streets at Rockwell on the River, a dynamic craft food and events space in Avondale along the North Branch of the Chicago River.

Located at 3057 N. Rockwell St. in between Elston and Belmont Avenues, the company began seven years ago when developer Paul Levy repurposed industrial buildings from what had been a tannery.

Reflecting his vision of an artisanal food space like no other in the city, the complex has a diverse and growing mix of local and family-owned small businesses including Metropolitan Brewing’s taproom and brewery, Metropolis Coffee, and Judson and Moore Distillery.

The company’s long-term goal is to be known as a destination for the best food Chicago has to offer and an asset to the Avondale neighborhood.

And Rockwell on the River expects to add several new food-based businesses to its lineup soon. If you happen to be in the food industry, the complex offers customized kitchen spaces available for rent and often hosts pop-up cafes.

Currently, Catered by Design offers a pop up café on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. And please take advantage of the company’s two-for-one sandwich deal, using this QVR code.

After stopping by food vendors, you can take in the scenic Chicago River and see nature up close by renting kayaks from Wateriders Kayak Rentals and boats from Chicago Electric Boats—both companies operate from the complex’s dock behind the buildings.

And eventually the plan is to add a Chicago Water Taxi stop operated by Wendella to the Rockwell dock.

Because this stretch of the Chicago River is used primarily for recreation, it’s a great place to escape from the grid and enjoy the natural world, including blue herons, which were spotted in the area recently.

And if you visit, you can rest assured knowing all the businesses at Rockwell on the River follow strict COVID-19 protocols, including requiring social distancing and face masks, and cleaning surfaces regularly.

Along with providing space for food businesses to succeed, Rockwell on the River has a breathtaking 20,000 sq. foot event space overlooking the river (see below right) that can be rented for weddings, corporate gatherings, and galas.

The grounds also feature beautiful offices that can accommodate firms of all sizes. Available offices range in space from hundreds to thousands of square feet.

North Branch Works is proud to welcome Rockwell on the River as our newest member. We’re grateful our members on Rockwell Street can safely operate and excited about partnering with them to strengthen existing businesses, attract new ones, and bring family-sustaining jobs to the neighborhood.

If you’d like to rent space or connect with Rockwell on the River, please contact Jeff DeLong, Director of Marketing & Programming, 312-498-6382, jdelong@bridgeportart.com

Image credits: Rockwell on the River

Join Wendella Boats for tours & events

Because of COVID-19, the long-term viability of Chicago’s small businesses in the events and entertainment field like Wendella Boats depends upon the support of local residents and businesses.

A family-owned, multi-generational small business, Wendella Boats offers breath-taking architecture boat tours, hosts corporate events, and operates the popular water taxis which safely transport people to multiple destinations along the Chicago River.

Founded in 1935 by a Swedish immigrant who bravely purchased the company’s first boat during the Great Depression, Wendella Boats played a big role in helping Chicago and the country through major events such as CTA worker strikes, World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and 9-11.

Prior to the pandemic, Wendella Boats employed over three-hundred people and kept them in jobs year-round by having them repair boats during the winter months.

And these are good jobs that pay competitive wages without requiring much education or experience beyond high school.  As an employee benefit and workforce development strategy, the company provides scholarships to help employees obtain their Coast Guard credentials.

Now, because revenues have fallen 90%, the company has been forced to reduce its workforce to one-hundred and furlough 60% of its staff. Wendella Boats also recently made the difficult decision to suspend water taxi service. Just last year, water taxis transported 415,000 people to and from various riverfront destinations.

With tourism and hotel occupancy in the central business district down sharply, the company is counting on Chicago residents and local companies to take architecture tours and book events.

The good news is Wendella Boats provides the safest and socially-distant entertainment available. It’s a great way to see Chicago’s awe-inspiring architecture up close, learn more about the city, and relax and unwind.

The company’s ninety-five-foot steel tour boats feature an open air upper deck (pictured above) and plenty of space to comfortably social distance. And you can rest assured knowing the company follows all the COVID-19 protocols, including cleaning the boats vigorously after each trip, taking temperatures of its staff, requiring face masks, and enforcing social distancing.

Because of these measures, only one-hundred people are allowed on the boat per outing. And while following these guidelines is a must for public safety, it also means the company is down one-third of its revenue even if it sells out the boat.

Despite these challenging times, Wendella Boats continues to show its incredible commitment to the city. A portion of the proceeds from its bar service is donated every week to local nonprofits.

North Branch Works is proud to count Wendella Boats among our members and grateful it can safely host tours. We highly recommend hopping on an architecture boat tour, booking an event, and referring family, friends, and colleagues.

Any support you can provide is greatly appreciated. You can purchase tickets for an architecture tour by stopping by Wendella’s dock (see below) at 400 N. Michigan or going here.

Four Star Family Cyclery improves lives during COVID-19

After overcoming a fear of cycling, Elsbeth Cool (pictured above) purchased her first cargo bike as an adult, taking a leap that ultimately inspired her to launch a small business selling cargo bikes.

Now, as the owner of Four Star Family Cyclery, she gets to help customers and their families experience the many benefits of choosing to bike for everyday transportation.

A woman-owned, family business in Avondale, Four Star Family Cyclery specializes in selling cargo, family, and electric-assist bikes. And you can also stop in to rent a bike and for bike accessories, including helmets, locks, and general repairs like having a flat fixed.

And if you haven’t heard of cargo bikes, they are bikes that have been adapted so they can carry heavy and bulky loads, including passengers like children. They vary by design and come in two, three, or four-wheel forms and with or without electric assistance.

Four Star Family Cyclery opened its doors in 2016, operating in a 700 sq. foot space on Western Avenue. Because few bike shops in Chicago would carry cargo bikes at the time, Elsbeth courageously started on a small scale.

Once the business succeeded, it needed a larger space. Elsbeth desired a location in a family-friendly neighborhood with walkable streets. As it happened, Four Star Family Cyclery moved to its current location, (3101 W. Diversey Ave. see below), which is in front of the CTA’s #76 Diversey Bus stop at Albany St., right before the onset of COVID-19.

Although the pandemic created uncertainty before peak bicycling season in Chicago, the good news is the company has been extremely busy keeping up with strong demand. And by encouraging a healthy, sustainable and socially-distant way of getting around, the business is making a major contribution to the city as the local economy recovers.

Four Star Family Cyclery is committed to providing customers with high-quality, individualized attention. That’s the primary reason new customers are asked to sign up for hourly appointments at no cost, which you can do here.

If you sign up for an appointment, you’ll receive an hour to talk about bikes with Elsbeth as well as the opportunity to do test rides on scenic Logan Boulevard.

There’s nothing Elsbeth and her team enjoy more than helping people who haven’t biked in years gain the confidence necessary to become year-round cyclists. It’s common for the team to hear customers love their cargo bikes so much they ride them frequently and often sell their cars.

And Four Star Family Cyclery is exactly the type of sustainable business that North Branch Works is working hard to support through our advocacy for policies that create a business-friendly climate and by connecting local businesses to each other for mutually beneficial economic development.

If you’d like to explore the variety of cargo bikes, need bike accessories, or have questions about biking, please contact Elsbeth at elsbeth@fourstarfamilycyclery.com, 224-358-5455.

Image credits: Four Star Family Cyclery

City should evaluate bars and taprooms based on compliance

Citing an increase in positive coronavirus cases, Mayor Lightfoot recently decided to eliminate indoor service at bars and taprooms operating without a food license.

While we appreciate Mayor Lightfoot’s data-driven leadership during the pandemic, North Branch Works sees this decision as a one-size-fits-all policy approach that unfairly groups all bars and taprooms in the same category.

Instead, we urge Mayor Lightfoot to make compliance with COVID-19 regulations the deciding factor in whether or not bars and taprooms can offer indoor service.

Because of our strong relationships with bars and taprooms in our service area, we know they are highly committed to the health, safety, and welfare of their employees and patrons. And just as important, they have the capacity to carry out these services in a safe and responsible manner.

North Branch Works’ letter to Mayor Lightfoot highlights these and other points.

Chicago remains a vibrant city in large part because of our diverse range of small businesses like neighborhood taverns and bars. Not only do these establishments strengthen communities through jobs and economic development, they also make important cultural contributions.

There’s no question that positive cases are increasing in certain zip codes. But it’s difficult to understand the rationale for closing all bars and taprooms across the city during a time when there’s overwhelming demand for jobs and economic development.

And we see establishments without food licenses as opportunities to encourage creative entrepreneurship with food-based businesses. For example, many small family-owned businesses like Calihan Catering are facing unprecedented challenges, so we could advance polices that foster partnerships between businesses with mutual needs.

And that’s exactly the type of partnership that we’re working hard to build along the North Branch by advancing policies that make it a premier area to do business and work, connecting members with each other, and sustaining new businesses.

North Branch Works stands ready to support Mayor Lightfoot and Members of City Council as we work toward a safe and healthy economic recovery.