RIVER GROVE – First Lady Patti Blagojevich today joined dozens of local women entrepreneurs to honor successful women business leaders, and emphasized Illinois has a business friendly and equality oriented environment that helps further empower women to develop and run their own businesses. Mrs. Blagojevich, who is the first sitting First Lady in Illinois to own a business, discussed her personal experiences as a working mother and highlighted available state resources to aid businesswomen while delivering the keynote address at the Biennial Athena Awards Luncheon.
“As women business owners, we face the demands of balancing family and work. We find out about subtle and not so subtle forms of discrimination. To overcome those things and succeed as a female entrepreneur takes strength and a real sense of self. Today, across America and across Illinois, women run businesses more than ever and do it better than ever,” said Mrs. Blagojevich, who delivered the speech at the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce in West suburban River Grove. “The recipients of the Athena Awards have made key contributions to the fight for equality in the business world in Illinois and across the nation, that will allow us to create even more opportunities for leadership for our daughters, their children and grandchildren thereafter. My husband’s administration has recognized the critical role women-owned companies play in the state’s economy by providing key resources to women-owned businesses and women entrepreneurs.”
Mrs. Blagojevich is a licensed real estate broker and appraiser. Before becoming the state’s First Lady, Mrs. Blagojevich worked in real estate for more than 15 years, and for the past five years has owned and operated her own real estate company on Chicago’s North Side.
Women-owned companies are critical to Illinois’ economy. According to the 2002 US Census, there are more than 285,000 women-owned businesses in Illinois, employing more than 355,000 people and generating more than $47.2 billion in revenues. In 2004, the Center for Women’s Business Research ranked Illinois 5th highest state in the nation for the total number of privately held women owned firms.
The Athena Award, presented annually by chambers of commerce, women’s organizations and universities, is established through local host organizations in partnership with Athena International’s national underwriters, local businesses and individual sponsors. Since the program’s inception in 1982 more than 5000 awards have been presented in over 500 communities in the United States, Canada, China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and most recently the United Kingdom.
“The Athena Award program celebrates the potential of all women as valued members and leaders of the community and recognizes those who support them,” said Jim Doss, Executive Director, Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce. “The Athena Award honors individuals who strive toward the highest levels of professional accomplishment; women who excel in their chosen field, have devoted time and energy to their community in a meaningful way, and who also open paths so that others may follow.”
Since taking office in 2003, Gov. Blagojevich has launched several initiatives designed to help businesses, including women owned businesses save money, create jobs and be successful. These initiatives include:
- The first 100 percent Minority-Owned Business Enterprises/Women-Owned Business Enterprises bond deal in state history. Every underwriter, underwriter counsel and bond counsel, and financial advisor in the $125 million sale was either MBE or WBE owned.
- Providing assistance to thousands of women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs through the Illinois Entrepreneurship Center Network (IEN) - regional hubs for coordinating all small business development, entrepreneurship training and entrepreneurial development activity in Illinois. In the previous fiscal year, IEN has helped over 41,000 women owned businesses secure $74 million in financing, provided $200,000 in entrepreneur center challenge grants and helped create nearly 3,500 jobs. Log onto http://www.ienconnect.com for more information.
- Launching the Participation Loan Program (PLP) that works through banks and other conventional lenders to provide financial assistance to small businesses that will employ Illinois workers. In the past year, the state has nearly doubled the amount of loans made to women owned businesses, increasing the percentage of loans going to women owned enterprises to nearly 40 percent of all loans.
- A landmark workers’ compensation reform, the first in the state in twenty years. The reform, aimed at reducing business costs, increasing benefits and fighting fraud, includes the implementation of a medical fee schedule to contain costs, which would save Illinois businesses millions of dollars annually; a workers’ compensation fraud unit that will investigate charges of fraud, and will investigate reporting of fraudulent claims by employees; and the creation of a third panel of the Workers’ Compensation Commission to expedite the resolution of disputed claims.
· Working with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to bring together small businesses and negotiate better small business health insurance rates and reduce administrative expenses.
· Launching the Illinois Business Portal (www.business.illinois.gov
) last February. To date, the Web site has been visited by over 180,000 unique visitors, an average of 20,000 a month. The Portal gives businesses useful information on how to start a business, find forms, and find the agency they need to talk to, and provides easy to find information on taxes, mandatory posters and small business resources.
· Clarifying rules regarding exempt vs. non-exempt status of Illinois employees. In July, the Illinois Department of Labor put a chart on its website that clearly explained exempt and non-exempt status using both state and federal guidelines. Increased clarity on this issue reduced the need for consultants and lawyers, saving companies money.
· Automating the Capital Development Board’s process to return retainage funds to contractors. This allowed contractors to obtain their money quicker and easier.
· Eliminating unneeded information from applications that now allows the Capital Development Board to speed payments to contractors.
· Converting state business forms from paper to an online format. Now businesses can file taxes and use most of the Department of Revenue’s forms online. Over 1,200 other forms from 15 state agencies are in the process of being converted to online formats.
· Reducing and clarifying paperwork for businesses. For example, the Initiative recently improved the Employer Training Investment Program grant application by following suggestions from Illinois businesses. These changes will save companies time by making the application easier to use.