In industrial district, incubating small business
Industrial Council of Near West Chicago strives to nuture entrepreneurs
04/25/2012 10:00 PM
A large truck rolls down an otherwise empty street, past the rows of old industrial buildings. A group of men in green jumpsuits eats lunch outside one of them, chatting about work. About a block away, another truck is attached to the loading dock — its body is so big it blocks off nearly half of the street. This section of Near West Side is known as the Kinzie Industrial Corridor. Bordered by Lake Street in the south, Kedzie Avenue in the west, Grand Avenue in the north and Ogden Avenue in the east, this cluster of small manufacturers, craftsmen, artisans, designers, wholesale suppliers and other small businesses has been able to weather the Great Recession and even expand its ranks. The Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago has been doing its best to help them succeed.
The council has been in operation since 1967, when a group of local business owners came together to combat rising crime and the deterioration of city services. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that it began marshalling its resources to boost business development within the corridor. It encouraged entrepreneurs to move to the corridor and worked to recruit more existing local businesses into their ranks.
Their efforts continued even during the recession. According to Andrew Fogaty, the council’s Director of Outreach, the current economic climate has actually encouraged Chicagoans to start their own businesses.
“As people become unemployed,” he said. “They are more willing to take a chance and strike out on their own. So we have been growing.”
Denise Ching, the director of the council’s Illinois Small Business Development Center, explained that the organization helps small businesses get off the ground.
“The Illinois Small Business Development Center meets with prospective entrepreneurs to help them with all the steps it takes to start a business. [That includes] writing a business plan, showing them how to register their business entity, apply for tax IDs and business licenses, create websites and put together marketing plans.”
Ching said that the council doesn’t just help businesses get off the ground — it continues to offer support at every step.
“We support small businesses at any stage of development,” she said. “As long as a business requests assistance, we will serve them. If there is a better resource for them, we will make an introduction.”
The council offers a number of programs and services that are free to members. It offers computer training, seminars and networking opportunities. It works to help burgeoning business find staff and obtain grants, loans and other forms of financing.
Fogaty also emphasized the council’s role as a business incubator. In 1980, the organization received four industrial buildings from the Department of Commerce. They rent out most of the space to new businesses, and the rents are set below market levels.
What they won’t do is hand out cash.
“That’s a big misconception about us,” said Fogaty. “If you come to us and say ‘I want to start a newspaper business, give me $12,000,’ we don’t have the money for that.”
Emily Carlson of Solstice Stained Glass was effusive in her praise of the council, saying that she wouldn’t be able to start her workshop without their help. Others offered more reserved responses.
With the economy teetering on the edge of recovery, it is hard to predict what the future will hold. But Ching believes that the council has a reason to be optimistic about the future.
“We are seeing a lot of people start companies and grow existing companies,” she said. “Of course there have been some sectors that were harder hit than others during the recession, like those related to construction, but overall the Kinzie Industrial Corridor continues to be a fertile ground for entrepreneurship.”