To drive small business growth, Chicago needs more coordination between its key stakeholders

By January 24, 2019 March 5th, 2019 Street Smarts

From its roots as a transportation and agriculture hub to its current high-tech, service, finance and manufacturing sectors, Chicago is a city founded on hard work and opportunity. With funding from the Chicago Community TrustPolk Bros. Foundation, and JPMorgan Chase, Next Street partnered with Community Reinvestment Fund, USA (CRF) to determine how the city can ensure access to that opportunity is equitable.

After months of research and coordinated efforts with CRF, we are pleased to present Assessing Chicago’s Small Business Ecosystem, a data driven analysis of small- and medium-sized businesses in Chicago. Through the careful study of key players – including capital providers, foundations, investors, business support organizations, and businesses themselves – we developed an understanding of their specific roles in the ecosystem, as well as how they can each elevate their effort to make Chicago’s economy more inclusive. Our research uncovered significant disparities across racial, ethnic, gender, and geographic lines when it comes to access to capital and critical support services, the number of business establishments, the relative performance and growth of SMBs, and employment opportunities.

Based on the findings, Next Street and our partners at CRF have proposed a clear path forward for the city of Chicago and key stakeholders to help make access to opportunity in the Windy City more inclusive. We recommend that efforts are made to provide small business with:

  • Improved access to flexible capital
  • More industry-specific strategies & funding
  • Enhanced business service offerings

We created a baseline for understanding the capital needs, challenges, and assets of the small business ecosystem in Chicago. The focus on Black and Latinx business owners speaks to our stakeholders’ desire to put inclusivity at the forefront of any Chicago efforts. Our research ultimately culminated in a set of clear recommendations that have informed a unique path forward to bolster the small business ecosystem for years to come.

Armed with the core research findings and priority recommendations coming out of this project, stakeholders in the city of Chicago have an opportunity to help shape the next chapter of small business growth and entrepreneurship in the city, creating new pathways for inclusive growth, shared prosperity, and economic mobility.