To holistically enhance the socioeconomic well-being of communities, businesses, and individuals through sustainability and financial independence
ESDC’s approach to economic vitality is a holistic one. We believe that business growth is vital to the creation and retention of jobs, hiring locally reduces the carbon footprint as well as the turnover rate of employees, and basic needs have to be met so that the members of the communities we serve can take advantage of professional and developmental opportunities. We are all integral parts of our local economy, and we are in it together.
As a lead Small Business Development Center(SBDC) and Neighborhood Business Development Center (NBDC), ESDC supports existing businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs through no-cost technical assistance, training, and resources provided through city, state and federal programs.
ESDC is also a Local Industrial Retention Initiative (LIRI) agency, offering assistance to businesses in Pilsen’s industrial corridor with the purpose of creating and retaining the jobs they provide in our community, and connecting those businesses with the resources they need to thrive.
Events such as the Mole de Mayo festival and Buen Provecho, as well as our “Shop Pilsen” campaign, serve as platforms through which our community can come together to support our small businesses, widening their customer bases, and leading to economic growth.
Through partnership and collaboration, our HOPE community programs empower families and individuals to transition from dependency to self-sufficiency.
ESDC considers local artists to be free-lance entrepreneurs, and some of our community’s greatest assets, since their work contributes to the world-renowned identity of the Pilsen neighborhood. ESDC offers workshops through which local artists can acquire the entrepreneurial skills they need to sustain their craft.
In recent years, we have expanded our scope of work to include financial literacy training for families and individuals as well as our geographic scope of service to include other communities in the Chicago metropolitan area including: Chinatown, Back of the Yards, Brighton Park, Robbins, Blue Island and Markham.
The Early Years
Eighteenth Street Development Corporation (ESDC) was established in 1976 in response to the housing crisis that was impacting the predominantly Hispanic community of Pilsen at the time. Quality affordable housing was scarce, many residents were unaware of their rights as tenants and homeowners, and many were monolingual Spanish speakers, which limited their access to information regarding government assistance programs. Those who owned their own home or investment properties were subject to potential building code violations and their associated costs. Pilsen’s proximity to the city’s downtown area and the University of Illinois at Chicago, coupled with its access to major highways and Blue Line “L” stops, made the neighborhood attractive to real estate developers, and the rate at which long-term residents were being displaced was on the rise.
Responding to the Housing Crisis
ESDC addressed these issues by providing local residents with the information they needed regarding tenants’ and homeowners’ rights, and assisting them with city programs. They conducted workshops on city rehab loan programs, tax-related issues, and building code requirements. They also advocated for affordable housing.
Empowering the Local Workforce
With the economic stabilization of the neighborhood in mind, ESDC then founded a carpentry pre-apprenticeship program, after having negotiated with the local carpenters union, the bricklayers union, and the plasterers union for many months and finally coming to an agreement. This was largely due to federal affirmative action policies that required at least 10% of minority participation in the construction of government buildings. The number of construction projects across the City of Chicago was growing, and since Pilsen’s local workforce was largely unskilled, ESDC’s carpentry pre-apprenticeship program was well-received by the community. Aspiring apprentices were subject to the condition that they would complete an accredited GED course, while they were paid to learn the skills they needed to pass the pre-apprenticeship test. Program graduates were guaranteed placement into the union-sponsored apprenticeship program. ESDC became a pipeline though which 265 factory workers or high-school dropouts became apprentices and joined the union. Many eventually went on to become journeymen.
An Innovative Idea
Pilsen was still grappling with the housing issue, and the pre-apprentices needed some hands-on training. ESDC then began buying abandoned, city-condemned buildings for $1. Many of these buildings were uninhabitable due to fires, building code violations, etc. and some were scheduled for demolition. Using construction materials donated by local companies, the pre-apprentices were able to hone their skills by rehabbing vacant buildings, and the City of Chicago was able to get the buildings back on the tax roll. It was a win-win for everyone.
A Lottery for Change
A local lottery was then held through which families could win a one-year lease at a discounted rate in a newly rehabbed apartment, under one condition— they would have to agree to stay for only one year, during which time they would work on becoming “buyer ready.” With the help of ESDC, they had 12 months to: lift their credit scores, set up the necessary lines of credit, save up for a deposit, identify a property, and apply for a mortgage loan so that the next family could move in and begin that same process. Many renters became owners, and the Hispanic population was able to gain a stronghold in their own community.
Fostering the Vitality of the Local Economy
ESDC continued to strengthen the local economy by shifting its focus to the business community. The organization began designing programs to encourage entrepreneurship and investment in Pilsen, promoting targeted economic growth and adopting a strategy that would ensure sustainable neighborhood prosperity and long-term, self-propelled, growth. It began working directly with businesses, providing capacity-building services, technical assistance, guidance and advocacy, which resulted in the creation of more than 500 jobs and the retention of more than 1,000 jobs. Through ESDC’s support and intervention, Pilsen businesses have accessed tens of millions of dollars in business capital and have also received more than $10 million in government contracts.
A Growing Legacy
Today, ESDC continues to provide a critical link between early stage startups and their next phase of development. Through collaboration, ESDC fosters the advancement of an industrial haven in the interest of a skilled local workforce and concentration of manufacturing and back-office firms. ESDC has not only expanded its geographic scope, offering its services to neighboring communities and a number of suburban communities, but it has also expanded its scope of services supporting a more holistic model of economic development that respects diverse social and economic backgrounds, and allows individuals to meet their basic needs so that they can take advantage of professional and developmental opportunities. ESDC is currently doing business as Economic Strategies Development Corporation.
*We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to former ESDC board member Fred Montejano and former ESDC board president Jacinto Alvarado for taking the time to share their knowledge of our organization’s history as well as their memories of our community’s historical struggles and triumphs.