Alderman hosts small business forum

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Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) hosted members of the small business community June 22 to discuss ways to start, improve and grow the area’s businesses.

Ervin’s small business event held at Westinghouse High School featured guest speakers with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Small Business Advocacy Council, Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and others. More than 100 participants, mostly business owners, attended the free forum.

The program focused on resources for small business owners to assist them with licensing, accessing credit lines and accommodating their businesses for disabled customers, among other topics.

“We recognize how important small business is to our city and state and the economy of the whole country,” said Judith Roussel, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which hosts programs for business owners and and provides them with counseling, training, and access to capital and contracts.

“Our mission is to make sure that everyone who has a dream of a small business and who has what it takes to follow through, that we give them the help, the assistance and support that they need at every single step,” she said.

Roussel said the small business community is an “exiting realm.”

“There’s lots of opportunity today and lots of assistance,” she said.

Elliot Richardson, president of the Small Business Advocacy Council, said it’s important for small business owners and entrepreneurs to connect with one another.

“I used to feel like I was on an island,” Richardson said. “We didn’t really have a community around us, and running a firm with 35 people, what I found was that I felt that the cards were stack against small business owners.”

He said if small business owners don’t come together, either through the Small Business Advocacy Council or individually, then “we are in a huge disadvantage.”

Richardson said 16 banks are part of the Small Business Advocacy Council.

“If you are looking for lending, I can’t promise we’ll get to you, but we’ll hook you up with people who truly want to get loans out to other people,” he said.

The Small Business Advocacy Council also offers mentoring programs, which are crucial for business owners, Richardson said.

“If I could go back and save all the money I lost by making very bad decisions when I started my practice, I’d be a much more wealthy man now,” he said.

Representatives from the Chicago Commission on Human Relations said their office has received an increase in negative complaints about some small business owners discriminating against customers with disabilities.

Under the human rights ordinance, which the commission enforces, public accommodations are required for individuals with disabilities unless there is an “undue hardship” for the business to do so.

Karen Wallace, compliance director for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, said those accommodations include elevators, lifts, permanent ramps, accessible restrooms and assistance equipment for people who have vision or hearing impairments.

“What we find for small businesses, usually this requirement poses some form of undue hardship because of costs,” she said.

Some ways small business owners can accommodate disabled individuals at a reduced cost include using portable ramps, providing take-out service and home delivery, and allowing online ordering, among others.

If small business owners have questions about licensing, they should contact the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

Representatives from SomerCo 504 Inc., the Donors Forum and S.A.F.E Inc. also attended the meeting.

Visit Ervin’s web site for more small business information.

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