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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 30, 2006

First Lady Patti Blagojevich joins the Women’s Business Development Center to celebrate two decades of advancement amongst women entrepreneurs in Illinois
Mrs. Blagojevich addresses over 300 women at the celebration; discusses her personal experiences as a business owner and highlights state resources available to businesswomen

CHICAGO – First Lady Patti Blagojevich this evening joined local women entrepreneurs and business leaders to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Women’s Business Development Center.  Addressing more than 300 women, the First Lady discussed Illinois’ 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, talked about her personal experiences as a working mother and highlighted available state resources to aid businesswomen throughout the state.
 
“Women-owned businesses have proved to be an incredible driving force in the Illinois economy.  And, today, across America and across Illinois, women run businesses more than ever and do it better than ever,” said Mrs. Blagojevich.  “The Women’s Business Development Center has made great strides in vastly expanding economic opportunities for women.  I commend, thank, and congratulate the Center for what they have done for Illinois women, and for their 20 years of success.”
 
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. 
 
Over the past two decades women-owned and minority-owned companies have proven to be an incredible driving force in today’s economy.  Twenty years ago, women owned less than 10% of businesses in the United States.  Presently, women own 48% of all privately held U.S. businesses, employ 19.1 million people, and generate nearly $2.5 trillion in sales.  In 2004, in Illinois alone, women owned businesses generated more than $112 billion in sales and employed approximately 918,000 individuals.  The latest estimates indicate that there are about 460,000 privately-held firms in the state that were at least 50% owned by women- ranking Illinois 5th in the country by the Center for Women’s Business Research.  
 
“We are proud to have reached our 20th anniversary as the oldest, largest, most successful women’s business assistance center in the U.S., with the support of the governor, the mayor, and corporations, foundations, and friends who understand the economic impact and power of women business owners,” said Hedy Ratner, co-president of the Women’s Business Development Center.
 
Founded in 1986, the Women’s Business Development Center is a nationally recognized nonprofit, devoted to providing services and programs that support and accelerate women’s business ownership and strengthen the impact of women on the economy.  Over the past two decades the Women’s Business Development Center has served more than 50,000 women in Illinois through counseling, entrepreneurial training, strengthening of emerging businesses, providing business development programs, financial assistance and loan packaging programs.  Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, has invested more than $1.3 million to help the Women's Business Development Center carry out its mission.
 
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 2005, IEN assisted women-owned businesses in obtaining $24 million in financing and securing $138 million in contracts.  The Network's Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) provides one-on-one business counseling, management services, training opportunities, business and financial plan development, and access to financial programs.  In 2005, SBDC’s counseled or trained about 11,500 female clients. Log onto http://www.ienconnect.com for more information or call 1-800-252-2923.
 
  • 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.


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