Preckwinkle announces steps to help small businesses
BY emily morris Staff Reporter Emorris@suntimes.com July 17, 2012 10:04AM
Updated: July 17, 2012 5:21PM
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced on Tuesday plans aimed at relieving insurance, bonds and payment burdens for small businesses that work with the county.
“Small business continue to be the engine of economic recovery,” Preckwinkle said, “These policy changes will help create jobs and strengthen our local business community.”
Her proposal includes an insurance program that would place the responsibility of purchasing required insurance plans on the county instead of on small construction contractors. The county would buy polices such as builder’s risk, worker’s compensation, commercial general liability and contractor’s pollution liability for large and small contractors.
“When you talk to small construction firms and women- and minority-owned business, insurance is a major barrier for them,” Preckwinkle spokesman Owen Kilmer said Tuesday.
The proposal is expected to primarily cover contractors working with the County’s Capital Improvement Plan, which includes redeveloping Cook County Hospital and renovating county court houses and correctional facilities.
Kilmer said the insurance program would come at no additional cost to the county, and Preckwinkle said it could even save money by purchasing insurance policies in bulk.
Though the liability costs to the county aren’t so clear, Preckwinkle said an “enhanced safety program” would help lower claims costs.
The next step is for her to seek approval for the insurance plan from the Cook County Board next week. If approved, Preckwinkle said the money saved by small businesses would allow them to focus on hiring workers and building their business.
Preckwinkle has also acknowledged in the past that local government has delayed payments to contractors, and she said she has already worked to reduce payment periods by simplifying the approval process.
On Tuesday, Preckwinkle said part of her new scheme would ensure prime contractors pay subcontractors within 14 business days of receiving compensation from the county.
The bond component of the plan, so far the least realized, involves calling on the public to submit ideas on how to reshape the process to obtain the bonds small companies need to buy to prove they can finish projects.
Since Preckwinkle took office in 2010, she has introduced various plans to help small minority- and women-owned businesses better compete with the big guys for government projects.
Last month, Preckwinkle said she got banks to agree to lend more money to small businesses in an economy where funds have become incredibly difficult for them to get.
She said about $200 million of the county’s $800 million in planned capital projects will go to women- and minority-owned businesses during the next three to five years.
“By identifying the biggest hurdles that small businesses face and eliminating them, Cook County is sending a clear message that we understand the problems that the business community is facing and are streamlining our operations to address those concerns,” Preckwinkle said.