May 2020
Earlier this spring, we sat down with Xochitl Flores, the new Chief of the Cook County Bureau of Economic Development. From October 2019 to January 2020, Civic Consulting Alliance collaborated with Chief Flores and her team to revamp the Bureau’s mission and vision. We asked her to reflect upon the project and its impact on the Bureau whose work is even more critical now as it prepares for a strong and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

What role does the Bureau of Economic Development play, and what drew you to the Bureau?
Under President Toni Preckwinkle’s administration, the Bureau of Economic Development was formed in 2011, and today, its mission is to lead and promote equitable economic growth and community development. The Bureau coordinates investments, federal grants, and regional planning for suburban Cook County. I was excited by the opportunity to lead such an impactful agency, and to work together with businesses, community organizations, developers, elected leadership, and constituents to ensure our communities are strong and vibrant.

Why did you undertake this project?
I joined the Bureau in July 2019, soon after the County (with Civic Consulting Alliance pro bono support) completed a Policy Roadmap that identified five-year economic vitality priorities. President Preckwinkle and I wanted to jumpstart progress by taking a comprehensive look at the Bureau’s mission and strategies, to identify critical projects in suburban Cook County that would help us achieve the County’s policy goals. We knew we needed to gather and synthesize input from many stakeholders within and outside the Bureau, so we turned to Civic Consulting Alliance to provide external perspective and the capacity needed to get this done.

What has the project process entailed?
Civic Consulting Alliance helped us develop the Bureau’s strategic plan through interviews with our staff and outside experts, an extensive review of best practices, and analysis of federal grant and loan data. The team then identified key initiatives and resources needed to achieve this strategy, and helped create a plan to guide implementation.

What are some of the most significant accomplishments of this project?
A mission and vision are critical to any agency’s success. This project developed a strategic framework to guide and communicate about the Bureau’s work going forward. It also helped us rekindle relationships with key partner agencies. We developed a meeting structure to guide how we collaborate with other agencies, and identified where these partners can plug in to particular initiatives. Finally, the project strengthened our approach to data analysis. Pulling from the wealth of data the Bureau already collects, the team helped us identify specific metrics to track progress towards our policy goals.

Why do you think this project is important?
For Cook County to thrive, our entire region needs to be vital. With a population of nearly 2.5 million people, the potential impact of improving the economic wellbeing of suburban Cook County is immense—particularly with suburban poverty on the rise in our region and nationwide . This project helped to raise up the needs of suburban towns, ensuring that they are addressed by our strategic initiatives.

How was your experience working with Civic Consulting Alliance?
We truly enjoyed working with the Civic Consulting Alliance team. Given the size of our staff (about 85 people) relative to the size of Cook County and to the complexity of the issues we are trying to solve, it’s not every day that we have the chance to step back as a team and look at the big picture. Civic Consulting Alliance provided the structure and the extra capacity my team needed to gather diverse input, to think through decisions, and to develop an actionable strategic plan.
As COVID-19 spreads, every unit of our region's government is wrestling with multiple, parallel objectives:

  • Addressing immediate public health concerns
  • Reducing the social and economic impact of the virus
  • Addressing structural inequities that underpin and exacerbate the above objectives

In March, Civic Consulting Alliance answered calls from the City of Chicago and Cook County to mobilize rapidly for a cross-sector, comprehensive, and inclusive COVID-19 response. To date, we've redeployed 75 percent of our staff and secured eight pro bono teams across several workstreams:
City of Chicago
  • Health Management
  • Policy Interventions
  • Racial Equity Rapid Response
  • COVID-19 Recovery Taskforce
  • Chicago Public Schools Recovery Planning
Cook County
  • Policy Interventions
  • External Stakeholder Engagement and Communications
Non-Government Stakeholders
  • Alignment of Philanthropic Investments with Public Sector Interventions
The breadth of our investment in this critical work is only possible because of the generous commitments of our pro bono partners, which, to date, include: Accenture , Bain & Company , Baker McKenzie , Boston Consulting Group , Kearney , McKinsey & Company , Oliver Wyman , and Slalom . I n the coming months, as our region shifts from crisis response to recovery, Civic Consulting Alliance will continue to dedicate significant staff resources and seek generous pro bono investments from our diverse partner network to support a safe and inclusive reopening and recovery. Sustained civic engagement and cross-sector collaboration will be critical as we continue to work to address the structural inequities that have prevented inclusive economic growth, buoyed by the City and the County's commitment to equity and ending poverty.
Keerthi (Kiki) Yalamanchili was with us as an Undergraduate Fellow from Northwestern University from January to March.
What project work were you involved in during your time at Civic Consulting Alliance?

I worked on a project with the State's Attorney's Office regarding low-level possession cases.

What will you take away from your time at Civic Consulting Alliance?

I loved my time at Civic Consulting Alliance, and it's been a great start to my career! One key lesson I learned is that concise, intentional communication is critical to success - whether that's in the context of a Power Point slide, or while speaking in a meeting.
What was your most memorable experience during your time at Civic Consulting Alliance?

On my second day, Civic Consulting Alliance's staff meeting was devoted to a Secret Santa exchange! It helped me get a feel for the organization's supportive culture, and encouraged me to ask staff to go on informal professional development "coffees."
How has your time at Civic Consulting Alliance helped you develop professionally?

My time at Civic Consulting Alliance helped me feel more confident about expressing my thoughts and ideas. That's been empowering, and I'm truly grateful to Civic Consulting Alliance for giving me the space to grow this self-assurance.

In partnership with Northwestern University, we provide a semester-long Undergraduate Fellowship. We periodically work with other undergraduate institutions on shorter internship opportunities. Please visit our   Fellowships   page to learn more about our range of fellowship opportunities.

  • Mayor Lightfoot announced the COVID-19 Recovery Taskforce, which she will co-chair with former White House Chief of Staff Sam Skinner. The Taskforce - led by a group of industry experts, regional government leaders, community-based partners, and policymakers - will provide critical insights to help Mayor Lightfoot as her administration works to balance a robust health response with a strategic economic response that addresses the unique challenges presented by COVID-19. Civic Consulting Alliance and our pro bono partners will amplify the capacity of The Office of the Mayor by standing up and managing the Taskforce.

  • Civic Consulting Alliance client West Side United earmarked a total of $100,000 in emergency Micro Grants to support 11 local food pantries that serve residents in Austin, Belmont Cragin, East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Near West Side, North Lawndale, Pilsen, South Lawndale, West Garfield Park, and West Town. 

  • Chicago's Office of Violence Prevention announced $7.5 million in awards to anti-violence organizations, with the bulk of the money going to Metropolitan Family Services - a key partner and grantee of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, a Civic Consulting Alliance client - for street outreach.
Questions? Comments? Contact Marie Akerman