Chicago is at an important crossroads. We have an opportunity to create a thriving economy that benefits all Chicagoans, but that requires us to establish clear priorities about where we invest our resources. While many campaigns have focused on slogans and catch-phrases, this campaign is focused on problem-solving. One of the biggest issues we face is ensuring all Chicagoans have access to jobs and careers that provide wages that sustain individuals and families. This is how our communities grow. While a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour is paramount, a highly-skilled workforce is the best way to ensure our communities continue to grow and our children have a future in this city.
Expansion of Vocational Education in CPS
All of our students should graduate college or job ready. Bob will push for an expansion of vocational education programs in Chicago Public Schools. CPS has systematically dismantled many key vocational education programs in trades such as carpentry and electricity. These programs give students good options after high school and also open up doors to entrepreneurship and small business ownership. Without expanding these programs in our schools, we continue to deny our children the options that they deserve and limit the ability for our communities to grow.
While the mayor has focused on vocational programs at the community college level through city colleges, his administration fails to understand that we must expose children early to the many ways they can acquire marketable skills.
Creating jobs in our neighborhoods
In addition to making sure Chicago has a robust workforce development system that trains residents for jobs of the future, it is imperative that the city maximize the impact of development projects in our various neighborhoods. Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) are a vital tool to ensure projects are of maximum value-add to our local neighborhoods. Bob would like to mandate Community Benefits Agreements for all projects above a certain dollar amount. This ensures that community development is community driven and benefits not just developers, but the communities their projects inhabit.
Access to jobs and contracts continues to be a major issue that affects many of our neighborhoods. That’s why Bob wants to make sure that local companies have access to contract opportunities on public works projects in the city. Bob will work to ensure that bids for public works projects are unbundled, thus making it easier for smaller business to take advantage of contract opportunities. In addition, we have a responsibility to make sure the local Chicago companies get top priority in bidding for local projects. We know that this is one way to help businesses grow to the next level. Therefore, Bob will work to ensure that local Chicago companies are positioned to take advantage of public works projects.
Expanding Entrepreneurship & Technology Innovation Centers
BLUE1647 is an entrepreneurship and technology innovation center focused on professional development through classes and workshops, workforce development in technology and other high-value skills. More importantly, it provides these opportunities for people in the neighborhoods with one already established in Pilsen, another location in Englewood, and a third location planned on 95th Street. We should expand this concept to additional areas of the city. Bob plans to link business and workforce hubs to local elementary, middle and high schools to provide opportunities for earlier exposure to quality training in high-demand skills.
High value job training opportunities should not be only reserved for downtown. Chicago has invested millions of dollars into the tech incubator 1871, located at the Merchandise Mart, which has had success in launching tech startups. However, this downtown-focused investment only highlights the lack of equity in economic development in our neighborhoods.
Creating opportunities for small business to start and grow
Business Ownership is the key to generating wealth in our communities. Ownership is empowerment. That is why Bob will focus on making it as easy as possible for any individual – even those that might be difficult to employ, are underemployed, or have a previous criminal record to become small business owners in this city. Bob will push for creative business ideas such as worker-owned cooperatives, which gives residents the opportunity to both work for and own their own companies. Worker-owned cooperatives tend to have higher wages, better benefits, and better working conditions than typical businesses. Bob’s goal is to create a revolving loan fund to assist in the development of worker-owned cooperatives. Bob will also reduce the time it takes for permits to be issued, reduce red tape for entrepreneurs and small business owners, and create a package that provides capital for small businesses and startups, along with tax incentives and fee waivers for businesses that intentionally hire from the local community.
Raise our minimum wage to $15 an hour
We can inject millions of dollars into the economy by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for businesses that make more than $50 million a year. We took a good first step last year by agreeing to increase the minimum wage to $13 and hour by 2019, but that is not enough. Bob will work to increase the wage while helping small businesses deal with the increased cost.
Real TIF reform
The first step in addressing our city’s financial crisis is to use TIF money for its original purpose: lifting our least-developed neighborhoods out of blight and poverty to create opportunities across all of our communities.
Bob will declare a TIF surplus with the vast sum that is not committed to any specific projects or debt. That money could then be used to reopen our mental health clinics, shore up some of our school budgets, make a payment into our beleaguered pension fund, turn some of the closed schools into community centers that drive economic development and begin meaningful neighborhood economic development programs.
Summer youth job program
Bob has previously suggested using $25 million out of the TIFs to fund a summer jobs program for city youth. This program would help keep kids off the street, teach valuable life skills, and put money directly into the economy – likely into the areas of town that need it. It is a small investment that will also help reduce crime during the warm summer months.
Change the focus of the Planning Department & Increase Accountability
Community-driven development will be a hallmark of Bob’s economic plan. A commitment to equity is paramount to ensuring all communities benefit from Chicago’s resources. Bob will make sure that minority and women-owned businesses have a fair shot at contract opportunities by increasing access to vital information on available projects, providing hands-on technical assistance for MBE/WBEs to help navigate the procurement and bidding process, and ensuring that MBE/WBE requirements are properly and fairly enforced.
Bob will make sure Chicago’s planning department focuses on bringing businesses with jobs to town, rather than just relocating corporate headquarters to Chicago. While Chicago should be proud of the business headquarters’ we have—and welcome more—we need to prioritize our resources to bring good-paying jobs for regular Chicagoans, not just high paid executives. We should make Chicago a world class city for its citizens, and we can do this by encouraging jobs outside the Loop as well as inside.