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Women's Business Development Center celebrates two decades of advancement among 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               Send a link to a friend

[MARCH 31, 2006]  CHICAGO -- First lady Patti Blagojevich joined local women entrepreneurs and business leaders Thursday evening 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, which 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, she worked in real estate for more than 15 years, and for the past five years she 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 percent of businesses in the United States. Presently, women own 48 percent 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 percent owned by women -- ranking Illinois fifth 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. Gov. 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, the governor has launched several initiatives designed to help businesses, including women-owned businesses, save money, create jobs and be successful. These initiatives include the following:

  • The first bond deal in state history that was 100 percent with minority and women-owned business enterprises. Every underwriter, underwriter counsel, bond counsel and financial adviser in the $125 million sale was from either a minority-owned business enterprise or a women-owned business enterprise.

  • Providing assistance to thousands of women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs through the Illinois Entrepreneurship Network -- regional hubs for coordinating all small-business development, entrepreneurship training and entrepreneurial development activity in Illinois. In 2005, the network assisted women-owned businesses in obtaining $24 million in financing and securing $138 million in contracts. Services provided by the network's Small Business Development Centers are one-on-one business counseling, management services, training opportunities, business and financial plan development, and access to financial programs. In 2005, the centers counseled or trained about 11,500 female clients. Visit for more information or call 1 (800) 252-2923.

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  • Launching the Participation Loan Program, which 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 20 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 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,, last February. To date, the online site has had 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, 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 versus nonexempt status of Illinois employees. In July, the Illinois Department of Labor made a chart available online that clearly explains exempt and nonexempt 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, allowing 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 conversion 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.

[News release from the governor's office]

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