Friday, August 12, 2005

Field report: Chicago Small Business Expo

Greetings from the red line, where am just heading home after attending my first Chicago Small Business Expo, down at the campus of the University of Illinois - Chicago. And what an event it was, man! Held at least once a year, the Expo is in fact a free event, open to any random Chicago citizen who wants to register, mainly sponsored and put together by the Office of the Treasurer.

Such events, as some of you already know, can sometimes be a mixed bag; I've attended such free "community" events before, both here and in other cities, where there ended up not being much worth seeing beyond half a dozen folding tables and a bunch of bored-looking interns. The Expo I just attended, however, was quite different - it was held at UIC's basketball stadium in this case, and in fact needed that kind of room, with just hundreds upon hundreds of vendors and government agencies in attendance. I met up with banks today, small-business advocacy groups, third-party payroll companies, marketing and advertising agencies, independent auditors - just about any business you could imagine that has something to do with small business and entrepreneurship. Plus the Expo also sponsored a whole series of free workshops throughout the day as well, several of which I attended and found most informative.

So what was the most interesting experience of the day? Well, that would probably be the presentation by Scott Bruner, director of Chicago's brand-new Department of Business Affairs and Licensing. This is an agency that was just created last year for the first time, and will officially be opening their doors for business come October 1; the whole idea (spurred by Mayor Daley, of course) is to consolidate all the different licensing processes the city requires for businesses under one roof, with one shared staff that can help walk you through the whole process. So, if you need a liquor license, an outdoor-seating license, a food-handling license, a live-entertainment license, come October you'll be able to go to one office and apply for them all (compared to before, when you would have to visit three or four different agencies to get all the relevant applications), and also have one government employee who's familiar with all the different licenses and can help you streamline the application process. (In fact, I specifically asked, and this new department is promising to get the process of procuring a Chicago liquor license down to 45 days, from the two years or so it takes currently.) And here's even more intriguing news - according to Bruner, come this point a year from now, you will be able to apply online for just about every license the city grants. Well, hooray for government employees who embrace the web, man!

Anyway, more details on Monday at my personal journal; I just wanted to drop a line now and let you know how everything went, and to thank the city for putting together such a great, informative event. Thanks, Chicago Office of the Treasurer!