The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has launched the CTA Building Small Businesses Program, which is designed to increase small business participation in the Red and Purple Modernization (RPM) project and other large-scale construction projects by ensuring local entrepreneurs have the financial guidance, support and resources to bid on city contracts.
The program was developed to provide financial guidance to small businesses and other Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) by offering direct loan placement and other supports so they can demonstrate the up-front capital needed to compete on large-scale transportation construction and capital programs.
“Chicago was built by small businesses more than 180 years ago, and if we want to continue building on sustainable, affordable and reliable access to transportation options in every neighborhood, we have to start by ensuring our local entrepreneurs are a key part of that vision,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “CTA knows first-hand that Chicago’s small businesses are the backbone of our communities, and I applaud President Carter for launching a groundbreaking inclusive process to provide the resources and tools necessary to stay on the right track and work with the city on large-scale projects so we can continue building a better Chicago together.”
For some small businesses, working on a large construction project requires resources that many firms don’t have, including cash flow that can allow them to purchase materials ahead of being reimbursed, access to loans and other forms of credit, insurance for larger jobs and access to IT and administrative supports. Without these tools, it can be impossible for many Chicago area small businesses to participate in construction projects.
“We’ve heard from many small businesses that it can be extremely difficult and intimidating to bid on large projects,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. “What is groundbreaking about the CTA Building Small Businesses Program is its holistic, step-by-step approach to help DBEs build the financial capacity and the business acumen to work on large projects for CTA and across the state.”
The program has been created through a partnership between the CTA, RPM contractor Walsh-Fluor Design-Build Team and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC Chicago). The program consists of free capacity-building workshops for small businesses that are certified as DBE or that are interested in becoming DBE-certified.
The RPM project and LISC Chicago partnership was one of 12 partnerships in Chicago that was recently identified for funding support from the Chicago Community Trust, The Coleman Foundation, JPMorgan Chase and Robert R. McCormick Foundation
The program provides one-on-one financial guidance and helps with prequalifying for loan packages. Firms that do not immediately prequalify for financing will be given access to direct loan placement for financial needs like mobilization, working capital for payroll, equipment and other cash flow needs. The program includes education on insurance and bonding. Qualifying firms can also receive back-office support, technical assistance and other business training.
Beyond helping DBEs compete, the program aims to grow the number of DBEs in the state, currently at about 2,000, and to encourage more of them to do business with CTA.
The first in a series of these free programs was held in September and a second program was held Oct. 24-25. Already, 45 Chicago area small businesses have participated this fall and many are moving forward with LISC Chicago to build the capacity to be ready to bid for sub-contract work on RPM, including becoming loan-ready to build their business. Currently, multiple participants are pursuing loan opportunities and competing for work on the RPM Phase One Project. The next working sessions are scheduled for Nov. 21-22 at the Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA) headquarters, 5820 W. Chicago.
The CTA Building Small Businesses Program is made possible in partnership with LISC Chicago, a community development support organization. LISC brings a network of neighborhood financial opportunity centers and other partners to provide financial education, financial products to build credit and assets and a network of community partners to offer technical assistance for these small businesses.
LISC is leveraging support for this program through its Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, a partnership with JPMorgan Chase, Fifth Third Bank, US Bank, Providence Bank and First Midwest Bank, to provide flexible and low-cost loan capital to minority entrepreneurs on Chicago’s south and west sides. In addition, the Businesses of Color Partnerships Fund, led by the Chicago Community Trust, The Coleman Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation and Robert R. McCormick Foundation, is providing grant funding to support the program.
“The Walsh-Fluor team is working hard to help these small businesses succeed,” said Project Executive David Shier.