Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle hosted business leaders throughout Cook County to discuss her ongoing dedication to additional opportunities for M/WBE participation, and the County’s efforts to work with private sector partners to increase access to capital and support services for emerging companies.
“I have always said that I believe that the partners that we do business with here at the County should reflect the rich diversity of our residents,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “The challenges of minority and women owned businesses are in many ways the challenges of small businesses all around the region: access to capital, support and professional development services, and cash flow. We want to work with experts to address these issues, so that our businesses can create good paying jobs here in our neighborhoods.”
The participants represented areas of focus determined by previous conversations during the President’s transition and time in office, especially in the areas of procurement, capacity building, and professional services. They included:
Anita Ponder, Seyfarth Shaw LLP [partner]
Chris Lee, Johnson & Lee Architects and Planners, Inc. [partner]
Donna Gaines, President and CEO, Alliance of Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs
Eric Dobyne, Regional Director, US Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency
Ernest Sawyer, President, Ernest R. Sawyer Enterprises, Inc.
Hedy Ratner, Co-President, Women’s Business Development Center
Henry English, President and CEO, Black United Fund
James Cabrera, President, United Building Maintenance, Inc.
Jorge Perez, Executive Director, HACIA
Larry Huggins, Riteway-Huggins Construction Services, Inc.
Mike Sutton, President, Infrastructure Engineering, Inc.
Omar Duque, President and CEO, Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Paul King, CEO, Comprehensive Construction Consulting, Inc.
Ralph Moore, President, Ralph G. Moore & Associates
Stephen H. Pugh, President, Pugh, Jones & Johnson
Tony Kitchens, KBS Computer Services, Inc.
Wilbur Milhouse, President and CEO, Milhouse Engineering & Construction, Inc.
William A. Lowry, Jr., Managing Shareholder, Nyhan, Bambrick, Kinzie & Lowry, P.C.
President Preckwinkle began the meeting by discussing the work that her administration has done so far to create a better climate for small business, such as the creation of a Bureau of Economic Development, increased engagement by the offices of Contract Compliance and Purchasing, and the introduction of the County’s procurement reform ordinance in September. The President also reinforced her commitment to completely rolling back the Stroger sales tax, with a 0.25% decrease coming in FY 2012 and another 0.25% planned for FY 2013.
The roundtable discussion covered a variety of topics, but focused on the challenges facing the growth of minority and women owned businesses in the county. President Preckwinkle and others emphasized that this was the beginning, not the end of a conversation, and agreed to form working groups on procurement, capacity building and professional service development to advise the Office of the President on the issues going forward.
“These discussions, and the initiatives that have been put forward, should become best practices for governments across the country,” said Donna Gaines, President and CEO of the Alliance of Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs (ABLE). “We talked about ways to build capacity and create self-sufficiency, reduce red tape and regulation, and leverage relationships with private partners to create strategic alliances. I was encouraged by the meeting and by President Preckwinkle’s commitment to providing a foundation for small business growth.”