Cook County Seal View Video: View Video:  Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has announced a $200 million partnership over the next three-to-five years with local lending institutions to promote and strengthen opportunities with Cook County for small, minority, and women owned businesses. The Small Business Financing Initiative is a commitment from Cook County to award approximately $200 million in County projects to small, minority, and woman-owned businesses in the region over the next three to five years. These projects are largely components of the County’s Capital Improvement Program, the work projected from the Cook County Department of Highways, and other work generated by the County such as projects financed through Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) and HOME Investment Partnership Program funding. One of the most significant hurdles for small businesses is accessing capital to finance projects and staffing at the early stages of a contract. To remove this barrier, President Preckwinkle has partnered with lending institutions throughout the region to ensure that businesses that have contracts with Cook County will have the resources they need while also demonstrating to banks that the County is a reliable business partner. “Throughout my time in public office, it has been a top priority to promote and expand opportunities for small businesses, and minority and women-owned businesses,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “The Small Business Financing Initiative is bringing the County, lending institutions and small businesses together to strengthen the economy throughout the region, while leveling the playing field for local businesses.” In the last 18 months, several changes have been made to the County procurement code to facilitate faster payment to contractors and subcontractors. For example, whereas there were previously approximately five steps in the process requiring board approval, board approval is now required only at the contract execution stage for contracts of $150,000 or more. In addition to these internal improvements, the Cook County Office of Contract Compliance is better utilizing several tools, such as segmenting contracts, establishing contract-specific goals, and creating pre-qualification pools in order to ensure that participation goals are met, and in several cases, exceeded. Earlier in the morning, President Preckwinkle convened a meeting with local lending institutions and received a commitment from them to take part in the Small Business Financing Initiative. The participants included JPMorgan Chase & Co., PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., U.S. Bank, Citibank, Fifth Third Bank, Wells Fargo & Company, Urban Partnership Bank, B.M.O. Harris Bank, N.A., Charter One Financial, and The Private Bank & Trust Company. The County’s Small Business Financing Initiative has already garnered strong support from the minority and women-owned business community. The following organizations have endorsed the President’s new initiative: African American Contractor’s Association, the Association of Asian Construction Enterprises, Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Black Contractors United. In another initiative shortly afterwards, President Preckwinkle removed barrirers to small business growth.