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Rauner looks to strengthen minority, disadvantaged businesses

Gov. Bruce Rauner signs an executive order on Wednesday to strengthen businesses owned by women, minorities and disabled people. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner is taking measures to close the gap in state contracts awarded to businesses owned by women, minorities and disabled people.

The governor signed an executive order on Wednesday requiring the state’s Department of Central Management Services to initiate a series of reforms that aim to make the business sector more accessible for disadvantaged business owners.

“Our small businesses in Illinois have been struggling for years, and when your typical average small business struggles, disadvantaged business owners — minority, women and disabled business owners — are devastated,” he said to a crowd of business owners and community members at a tech innovation center in Pilsen. “We need to support all our small businesses, especially our disadvantaged small businesses, so they can create more jobs in all of our neighborhoods and communities.”

The order requires the Illinois Department of Central Management Services to implement recommendations from a 2015 disparity study that Rauner ordered. The study found that businesses owned by minorities, women and disabled people are underrepresented among businesses that receive state contracts.

CMS must also implement a mentor program to help disadvantaged business owners, create a digital data collection and monitoring system to track contracts awarded to disadvantages businesses, and review its process for setting goals of how many disadvantaged companies are awarded those contracts.

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced Wednesday an executive order ensuring that more businesses owned by minorities, women and disabled people receive state contracts. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times
Gov. Bruce Rauner announced Wednesday an executive order ensuring that more businesses owned by minorities, women and disabled people receive state contracts. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

The state will also be tasked with identifying and helping disadvantaged businesses access “sheltered markets,” which Rauner said are industries or types of businesses in which there are “disadvantaged businesses that have the capability to be participating, but they are clearly shut out.”

“We’re going to open it up for everybody, not just the insiders anymore,” he said.

James Reynolds, CEO of the Chicago-based Loop Capital, one of the largest minority-owned financial service firms in the U.S., applauded Rauner for taking action on an issue that governors have long avoided.

“This is something that the African-American business community has been talking about for decades,” he said. “We were trying to find out what was going on with the disparity issues, and not a single governor would ever address it with us.”

Reynolds said the order should give hope to communities affected by high unemployment rates by offering more business opportunities.

“If there’s no jobs in the community, there’s no hope in the community,” Reynolds said. “We will now be able to transform these communities and provide hope among people that don’t have hope.”

James Reynolds, CEO of Loop Capital, said the executive order should restore hope in communities struggling with high unemployment rates. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times
James Reynolds, CEO of Loop Capital, said the executive order should restore hope in communities struggling with high unemployment rates. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

Rauner’s move to strengthen disadvantaged businesses has received bipartisan support. Democratic Sen. Napoleon Harris said the effort will help minority businesses to grow.

“This effort is a step forward in providing accessibility to minority businesses pursuing contracts with the state,” Harris said. “I’ve prioritized minority business growth throughout my legislative career, and there’s a lot of minority businesses ready and waiting for the red tape to be removed from the state’s contracting process in order to obtain contracts and grow as businesses.”

Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti said it will “level the playing field” for all business owners.

“Starting a business is already a daunting task, and the last thing that should happen is people are judged on the basis of their gender, disability or color of their skin,” Sanguinetti said.