JPMorgan Chase will spend $150 million in grants and loans to encourage economic development on the South and West sides, the bank announced recently. 

The initiative builds on an earlier, $50 million investment the bank announced in 2017. Charlie Corrigan, head of Midwest philanthropy at Chase, said that money has been spent and they wanted to triple their commitment. 

While Chase doesn’t have any specific targets for how much of the money will be spent on the West Side, Corrigan said that they were happy with what they were able to do with West Side nonprofits in the past, and are interested in developing partnerships with West Side organizations they didn’t work with before.

JPMorgan Chase currently has a limited physical presence on the West Side. It has branches in West Humboldt Park, at 4440 W. North Ave., at 1851 N. Cicero Ave., and inside the Near West Side Pete’s Market location at 2317 W. Madison St. 

Corrigan said that the $150 million investment will be spread over the next few years. At least two-thirds of the fund, or around $100 million, would be used for grants to nonprofit organizations, and the remaining third would be used to help nonprofit lenders offer loans to businesses and individuals at affordable rates.

“We’re taking a lot of the elements of [the earlier] model, but increasing the size and the scope,” Corrigan said. “Our approach is to rely on research, data and community input about the challenges facing our communities, and then partnering with nonprofits to address them.” 

He said that they are interested in nonprofits that empower residents and businesses. For example, Corrigan said, Chase supported several programs run by West Side United, a nonprofit founded by a group of West Side hospitals. 

He specifically mentioned the program to help West Side medical students get internships at West Side United’s partner hospitals, West Side United’s small business grant program and the nonprofit’s ongoing efforts to make sure its partner hospitals use more West Side companies as vendors. All of those programs, Corrigan said, serve as stepping stones for more opportunities. 

“We thought, if we can help the entrepreneurs on the West Side grow their businesses, become suppliers for hospitals, it [won’t be] just a one-time intervention, but it builds success for the businesses,” he said.

During its March 18 annual convening event, West Side United reported that, in 2020, it issued $500,000 in small business grants. That year, 80 percent of the interns at the partner hospitals were either Black or Latinx. 

Corrigan said that they also work with nonprofits that are looking to expand and build capacity, mentioning the Austin Coming Together (ACT) coalition as an example. He said that Chase enrolled ACT in the Stronger Nonprofits Initiative, a program it runs with Chicago-based IFF nonprofit lender to help nonprofits with financial management and real estate planning. 

When asked about how Chase get community input, Corrigan said that it comes from talking to the nonprofits they work with and talking to residents who use their branches. They also plan to hold community roundtables throughout the year. Corrigan said that it was important for them to look at challenges specific to different communities.

“We want to cast a fairly broad networking net,” he said. “We know that challenges are different on the South and West sides, and the conditions are different in Little Village compared to North Lawndale or Garfield Park.”

As Austin Weekly News has documented over the years, one of the significant issues facing the West Side is that a significant portion of residents don’t have bank accounts, leading them to rely on currency exchanges and payday loans. 

Corrigan said that, as part of the investment, Chase would be putting more loan officers into communities of color to help Black homebuyers and entrepreneurs. He also touted the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, which Chase launched in 2018 in collaboration with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago and Accion Chicago to provide loans and financial coaching. 

Corrigan said that Chase issued 876 loans, around 70 of which went to Austin business owners.

He said grants and loans will be administered on a rolling basis over the next five years, but he hopes that West Siders will see some results of their investment by the end of 2021.

Malcolm Crawford, the executive director of the Austin African American Business Networking Association, said that, while he was hopeful that the investment would do some good for Austin, he was leery of the bank focusing its investments on organizations that already get support and overlook other organizations that would need help.

“I’m always hopeful, but I think there should be a targeted approach,” he said. “I think a lot of the donors or funders are comfortable with who they’re comfortable with. And even though you have mainstay [organizations] and nonprofits, there are some individuals and organizations that are being effective, but they can’t get the resources, because of who the funders are comfortable with.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...