Business Benefits in the Inner City: The State of Green Business-Chicago

Although there are many benefits from investing in and working within metropolitan areas and inner cities, much of the information about opportunities is fragmented and scattered, said Chinwe Onyeagoro, managing partner of consulting firm O-H Community Partners.

Information, she said, is the biggest challenge, but by first knowing what types of opportunities exist, businesses can have an easier time finding that information.

The four main types of benefits, she said, are: marketing, location, human capital and financing.

In the realm of marketing, branding and customer acquisition, there are many groups like chambers of commerce, small business organizations and housing organizations that exist to both give information to businesses and disseminate information about businesses.

Most metropolitan areas are divided in many ways - political boundaries, communities, commercial areas, etc. - and businesses need to be aware of those borders to properly work within a city and craft their outreach efforts.

Opportunities for media coverage also abound, Onyeagoro said, citing a partnership between the Chicago Tribune and a non-profit that works on business development in Chicago's South Side. As part of the partnership, the newspaper profiled a handful of small businesses, which were then later profiled on a TV show that grew out of the program. Business reporters from all sorts of media, she explained, are constantly looking for new businesses or new business stories to tell.

Another opportunity in this area is citywide partnerships and programs, like the hundreds of neighborhood festivals in Chicago hosted by the city, which offer places of businesses to reach hundreds or thousands of people.

In terms of locations, there are city groups and organizations that can help businesses find the right locations for them, and help then sift through the many land and building opportunities, like in Chicago, which has more than 15,000 commercial buildings.

For the third area, staffing, major cities across the U.S. have employment centers whose sole purpose is to identify, screen, recruit and place staff. Their biggest challenge, Onyeagoro said, is finding businesses to place them in and find out what kind of training is needed.

BP America took advantage of this type of service when it foresaw it would have a shortage of process technicians. It started working with Olive Harvey College in Chicago to develop a program on process technology. Once other oil and gas, food, and pulp and paper companies got wind of it, they got involved since they need process technicians as well.

Lastly, financing for all types of efforts - land acquisition, energy efficiency, employee training and renewable energy - abound at the city, state and federal level.

But the challenge of finding the groups that can provide information on all of these opportunities still remain.