The vast majority of manufacturing companies in the Chicago area are white-owned, and most owners are at retirement age without a suitable successor. Most likely, those firms will be bought by private equity firms that fire the employees, sell off some assets and move on, meaning a huge loss of jobs and revenue in the region. For Dan Swinney, founder of the Manufacturing Renaissance, a nonprofit aimed at reviving manufacturing in the Chicago area, this challenge also has a massive upside – especially for black, Latino and Latina entrepreneurs. With a group of like-minded partners, he wants to identify thousands of healthy companies in need of buyers, while building a pipeline of viable, potential purchasers. He recently helped form the Ownership Conversion Project (OCP), which aims to both save manufacturing companies and jobs, and boost entrepreneurial opportunities for people of color. There are two parts to this puzzle: identifying potential sellers and finding buyers. The first avenue is to approach employees who might be interested in purchasing the company. Next is to turn to a pool of interested buyers who are people of color, some of whom could be identified by partners with access to a broad network of contacts. “At the end of the day, we’ll work with any entrepreneur committed to keeping the company here,” says Swinney. “Each of these companies may employ 10 or 50 people. But in aggregate, they represent the lifeblood of the manufacturing sector.” Swinney feels there is a great deal of urgency to the effort. “This opportunity will be available for the next 10 years or so,” he says. “After that, a lot of these companies will be gone.”
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