University of Chicago is one of the anchor institutions that CASE connects with local small and mid sized business for its procurement needs. Photo by UChicagoNews.
In 2014, World Business Chicago launched Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE), a program that connects anchor institutions with small and mid-sized businesses, as a critical initiative of the Mayor’s Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs. As part of this Plan, CASE’s objective is to create inclusive economic growth and leverage place-based assets such as anchor institutions in the city. With seed capital from Polk Bros. Foundation, CASE initially started with just a handful of anchors but has grown steadily since. CASE has generated more than $11 million in contracts signed, realized and committed through 2019 and more than 70 jobs.
At the core of CASE are the anchors — fifteen (and counting) global leaders in healthcare, housing, transportation, financial services, utilities, arts and culture, education and government. We approach a potential anchor via their civic engagement and procurement offices outlining CASE’s value propositions. We ask that they invest time and resources to deepen their commitment to local businesses by leveraging their purchasing power.
The success stories of the businesses are the best part of our work. Ocean Mist, a general contracting construction company is a perfect example. At its helm is CEO Navjot Bajwa, a dynamic entrepreneur who wants to create success not just for herself, but also for others by growing her business to its full potential. When Ocean Mist secured its first contract with the City of Chicago, Navjot shared, “CASE enhanced my knowledge, offered important networking opportunities and gave me guidance on how to best present my business to anchors. There are so many reasons to participate.”
You may ask, what’s the big deal? Hasn’t all this been done already? The answer is yes and no. Anchors and small businesses working together isn’t new. Anchors working collectively to drive the local economy, however, is a relatively new idea. CASE is a matchmaker for products and services between anchors and local businesses, and we want to be the best matchmaker for local procurement efforts.
Our approach in running CASE is similar to that of a start-up, we are always trying new things. If we fail, then we fail fast and course correct quickly. When we succeed, we apply even more resources to ensure success. We learned several important lessons our first two years. Initially, CASE focused on the supply-side – the SMEs. However, we learned that we have to better understand the anchors’ needs in order to create the pipeline for contracts and jobs. For 2016, we’ve flipped the original model to focus on the anchors on the demand-side, using purchasing data to identify real opportunities that will create critical business partnerships.
In redesigning the programming, we are creating a better value proposition for all key stakeholders. We are helping anchors follow through on their institutional goals around community engagement, local procurement and supplier diversity. We are assessing the readiness of SMEs for anchor contracts and designing appropriate interventions to better prepare them for these opportunities. Finally, we are helping SMEs identify and hire talent from low-income communities.
We believe that CASE’s model will lead to sustainable impact in our region. Anchors will deepen their investment in their neighborhoods through local businesses, not for charity, but to create shared value. Through CASE, anchors have found a clear path to invest in vetted local businesses. This promotes greater economic resiliency for our city and region in the long run.
Post by Nitika Nautiyal, Executive Director of Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE) at World Business Chicago. To learn more about the role of anchor institutions (such as hospitals, community colleges, universities and nonprofit institutions) in climate change mitigation and efforts around economic resilience, join our Twitter Chat from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST on Tuesday March 29th. Check out this post for more information.