By Kim Grimshaw Bolton
Photo by Robert Kozloff

Inter-City Supply has been providing soap, hand sanitizer and paper towels to University of Chicago Medicine since 2004. With an expanded hand-washing research project underway at the Center for Care and Discovery, led by Dr. Emily Landon, Medical Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship and Infection Control, and Silvia Garcia-Houchins, Director of the Infection Control Program, the medical center is expecting soap use to increase by 50 percent. Inter-City Supply provided excellent service and competitive pricing, so it was the logical first choice for a soap vendor. UChicago Medicine believed, with improvements to its supply chain, Inter-City Supply could be an even stronger partner.

Michael Carey, Director of Purchasing for UChicago Medicine, said he referred Jackie Dyess, owner of Inter-City Supply, to participate in a business development program sponsored by CASE -- Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy -- because he wanted to see the company grow as a supplier. “As a small distributor, they weren’t purchasing enough product to buy directly from the manufacturer and had to go through a larger distributor,” Carey said. “With their increased business with the City of Chicago and our new $100,000 contract, they can cut out the middle man and lower costs for their customers.”

Dyess started Inter-City Supply Co., in 1978. The company’s South Side warehouse is stocked with a wide selection of janitorial, packaging, food service, and other supplies. Inter City Supply has 12 employees who all live in the area and contracts with approximately 400 companies, including UChicago Medicine. The University referred Dyess to CASE this spring, to participate in the pilot consulting and technical assistance workshop.

“CASE was a dynamic and exciting opportunity,” said Dyess, who has attended several professional development programs. “I liked that it was local and that I had the opportunity to be in the same room with other entrepreneurs.”

The University is a founding member of CASE, which connects anchors in need of qualified local suppliers with growing businesses in need of sales and contract opportunities. World Business Chicago launched CASE in March 2014, on the same day the University introduced UChicago Local’s Buy Local initiative. Since then, CASE has contracted with Next Street, a merchant bank that specializes in connecting small companies to large institutions, to offer three-day workshops to more than 100 businesses looking to increase their competitiveness.

“CASE creates a win-win for local entrepreneurs and our anchor members. It opens the door for them to tap into the massive buying power of Chicago’s anchor institutions, and introduces us to a more diverse array of vendors and service providers. That creates a win for the local and regional economy as well,” explained Derek Douglas, University Vice President for Civic Engagement and chair of CASE’s Anchor Institutions Committee

As a follow up to CASE, UChicago Local is partnering with Next Street to provide individualized work plans to some of the participants, to address specific areas where they want to grow their business. That could range from building a new web site to crafting a regional sales strategy. Next Street will be working with Dyess to develop a supply chain management plan.

Since the University’s pilot group went through the CASE program at the end of March, there have been five cohorts. On Nov. 13, World Business Chicago hosted CASE’s End of the Year Networking Reception for cohort participants and anchor members at the Chicago Innovation Exchange at the University of Chicago. Among the featured speakers was Lenita Digby Williams, who runs Digby’s Detective and Security Agency.

Since participating in a CASE cohort in May and June of this year, Digby’s has been invited to respond to a Request for Information from ComEd, a CASE member, and won a new contract with a City of Chicago sister agency that has allowed Williams to hire 34 new staff. Williams said CASE has influenced the way she responds to RFPs. “We’re often competing with larger, global businesses, so it was helpful to gain insights on what anchors are looking for,” she noted. Williams added that she benefitted from the classroom discussions where the participants were allowed to share best practices and get feedback “without judgment.” Digby’s is located in Douglas, at 28th and Wabash. Williams’ father, a retired police lieutenant, started the company about 35 years ago. Today, it employs nearly 300, most of who live on the South Side.

Businesses interested in participating in CASE, should contact Myla Skinner, Director of Strategy, Office of Civic Engagement, at mskinner1@uchicago.edu.

Originally published on November 26, 2014.