Even before the doors opened at 10:15 a.m., a crowd well over 150 had already lined up outside Austin Town Hall, July 29, the location of the “Taking Care of Business” summit, thanks to the efforts of State Rep. Deborah L. Graham, 29th Ward Ald. Isaac Carothers and State Sen. Don Harmon. Sponsors included the Austin African American Business Networking Association, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Austin Y Alliance, Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce, Westside Health Authority and Young Professionals Advisory Council.
Panel discussions, group seminars and business fair were conducted throughout the day. Among the presenters were the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, Chicago City Clerk James Laski’s office, Chicago City Treasurer Judy Rice’s office, ABC Bank, Bank One, Charter One Bank, Fifth Third Bank, First Bank of Oak Park, LaSalle Bank, Trans-Union Credit Services, Danielle Ashley Marketing, Clear Channel and Momentum Communications.
One participant, A.B. Yisrael, said, “I thought the business seminar was real helpful, simply because of the fact that there is never enough businesses that can be located in the community. You see vacant land and storefronts for rent and stuff like that. There are still quite a few businesses and services that are needed that are not here yet. So I think that anything we can do to advance the businesses and bringing businesses together with the people is a helpful thing.”
Ald. Carothers said, “I really want to thank Senator Harmon and Rep. Graham for the idea of putting this great seminar on. I’m very pleased to have it in the best ward in the city on the West Side, the 29th Ward. It really gives the opportunity to the people to learn how to start their own business and also the opportunity for people who have their own business and how they can enhance it. I’m very pleased that they are here, particularly for the African-American community. It is very important that African Americans learn how to empower themselves through economic development, by having their own business.”
Of the over 150 people waiting outside, Carothers said, “This also shows the commitment and the interest of the constituents of the 29th Ward. The 29th Ward has a group of very progressive individuals who want to move forward and take advantage of these great opportunities, so I’m very pleased to see that.”
Rep. Graham said, “The first time we did this a couple of months ago, there were about 50 people who came out on a rainy day. There were a number of agencies out here and people were just talking about how much information they had gotten. And I thought it was really important that we did it again. So I teamed up with Ald. Carothers and Senator Harmon and a number of other groups to see how we can really galvanize and pull people together. When I went into office for the second time, I asked God what was it that he really wanted me to do to really energize our community. And when I would talk to people, people were [saying] they wanted to own their businesses. So from that point on we began to put this project together and it’s been a really successful one.”
Sen. Harmon said, “Rep. Graham deserves all the credit for this. This is her brainchild, and she’s done a fabulous job putting this together. The West Side is such fertile soil for economic development, for job creation and for entrepreneurship. I’m glad that we’re able to be here to help give folks the resources they need to succeed. And I hope that all the folks who attended this summit for the first time will be presenters at our next summit. I hope they have great success and come back and tell everyone else how they did it.”