The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) partnered with Ascend HUB Interactive (HI) to launch the CTA Building Small Businesses (BSB) Program, an innovative resource model and initiative designed to increase local small business participation in large-scale, government capital improvement projects.
The BSB Program is the latest in a series of initiatives launched by the CTA to bring equity and inclusion to all aspects of its operations.
“More than just buses and trains moving about the city, public transit is the equity equalizer for everyone, providing affordable access to jobs, schools and vital resources – regardless of one’s background or circumstances,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. “The Building Small Businesses Program allows us to further extend the benefits of public transit to the communities we serve by providing the tools and resources small, minority-owned businesses need to properly and successfully compete for CTA and other large-scale contracting opportunities that are traditionally out of their reach.”
The BSB 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.
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 difficult for many Chicago area small businesses to participate in construction projects, says CTA.
The BSB Program was officially launched at a networking and informational event on July 21, where more than 60 local firms attended to learn about the BSB Program and hear from invited guest speakers including, Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration Nuria Fernandez and Shelby Scales, the director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Piloted in 2019 under the Red and Purple Modernization program Phase One, the BSB Program proved to be quite successful, with more than 100 Chicago area small businesses having participated in the program, of which 20 received $5.6 million in financing, which is vital for building the capacity to be ready to bid for sub-contract work on CTA projects, including becoming loan-ready to build their business.
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 BSB 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 also aims to grow the number of DBEs in the state, currently at about 2,800, and to encourage more of them to do business with CTA.