DCEO Access to Capital: Arab American Heritage Month business workshop
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) hosted an online workshop with specialists designed to help Arab American businesses learn more about the opportunities offered to strengthen their businesses. The program was organized in conjunction with Arab American Heritage Month and co-organized by the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.
By Ray Hanania
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity hosted a virtual workshop to help Arab American businesses benefit from state support programs.
The event was co-hosted by the American Arab Chamber of Commerce and President Hassan Nijem on Tuesday and was broadcast on the DCEO Facebook page where you can watch the entire event.
DCEO also presented a Proclamation from the State of Illinois commemorating Arab American Heritage Month, April. Although DCEO serves all businesses throughout the States, providing recognition to Arab American business owners demonstrates the State’s commitment to ensure they also take advantage of the state’s business resources.
“Thank you for all the panelists joining us today to celebrate Arab American Heritage Month and also to commemorate the Holy Month of Ramadan,” Nijem said in his opening remarks during the panel.
“We wish to work together with the State of Illinois to help our small businesses to take advantage of their programs, to secure grants and any financial assistance to help them.”
The panel discussion was opened by Diana Alfaro who is the Latinx Business Development Manager, Office of Minority Economic Empowerment, Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, and Vanessa Uribe who is the Deputy Director of DCEO’s Office of Minority Economic Empowerment (OMEE). And it was coordinated by DCEO staff including Manny Lopez and Erika White.
Previously, DCEO Director Sylvia I. Garcia celebrated the achievements of Arab Americans noting the event is intended to honor the contributions of Arab Americans.
“Arab Americans have made tremendous cultural and economic contributions to the state of Illinois,” Garcia said in a statement prior to the webinar launch.
“This month and throughout the year, we are proud to partner with Arab American business leaders and community organizations to highlight these critical contributions while also providing technical assistance and information about DCEO programs that will help advance economic opportunity for Arab Americans across our great state.”
Panelists who discussed benefits for Arab American Businesses, and all businesses, included Uribe; Mike Al Musa, a regional sales manager for BMO Harris bank; Manuel Flores, former First Ward Alderman and now President & CEO of SomerCor which works with SBA 504 and Community Advantage economic assistance; and Mustafa Abdall who is a Business Planning and Community Outreach consultant with the SBDC Illinois and board member of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce.
Ray Hanania, former Chicago City Hall journalist and award winning columnist with Arab News and Southwest News Newspaper Group, served as program discussion emcee.
“Our office hone in on equity and when we talk about equity we talk about making sure that people have access to resources and opportunities and we do that in a number of ways,” Uribe said opening the discussion.
One of the most important services is the OMEE’s Loan Opportunities through 40 plus organizations in the network’s small business efforts across the state of Illinois.
“I like to think of OMEE as a connector both within DCEO and externally finding ways to serve all marginalized communities, all folks that are disconnected from some of these resources. We have a priority focus on women, minorities, people with disabilities, veterans, and really all communities that have been disconnected from many of governments and DCEO’s resources.”
Uribe urged businesses to look closely at DCEO’s “Advantage Illinois” program.
“Somercor is a not-for-profit mission-based lender,” Flores said, noting the company has been around 30 years.
“We lend on behalf of the Small Business Administration. There are two programs that we lend under the SBA (Small Business Administration), the SBA 504, and the community advantage loan programs. And, we also administer grants on behalf of the City of Chicago.”
Flores presented a power point presentation detailing Somercor’s advantages to small businesses. He explained the 504 program addresses businesses support in expanding or refinancing major fixed assets.
Somercor also offers the SBA 7(a) program which is financed directly by Somercor for the SBA with loans of up to $350,000. He said that businesses can also explore other loan programs including SBA CAPLine, Express Loans and Surety Bonds and recommended that businesses should visit his website at Somercor.com.
Al Musa spoke about BMO Harris bank loans and programs to help them be more successful. Although BMO Harris bank locations are mainly in Northern Illinois, anyone can apply through them and they work with businesses downstate.
He offered tips on criteria for borrowers noting that Credit Scores are important. BMO Harris will work with businesses that have Credit Scores that have problems.
Positive cashflow is a must in seeking a loan, he pointed out.
Abdall, who is also a Rockford Township Trustee, said the Rockford Chamber works with the SBDC to offer a full extent of services for local businesses. The Chamber works with 320 minority businesses of which 285 are Arab business owners.
“We offer to them free services from A to Z, from business plans, applying for loans, doing the website, marketing and till they do the grand opening,” Abdall said that during the pandemic, the SBDC opened 14 new businesses in Rockford.
You can watch the full program by clicking here.