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María Guerra: Open Doors for Small Businesses


uerra Lapacek took over as the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection at the beginning of the year. This department explores fraud complaints by consumers and initiates legal action against noncompliant businesses. It also grants and monitors business licenses, which are good for small business owners, Guerra Lapacek said.
“Having a license protects the business,” Guerra Lapacek said, “just as it helps the consumer.”
Guerra Lapacek has had a shifting role at City Hall since Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepped into the mayor’s office. Much of her work, though, has focused on government efficiency and responsiveness. She helped establish the city’s Small Business Center, reform the business licensing system and better protect consumers from fraudulent tax preparation services and predatory lenders.
With her help, the number of business license categories in the City of Chicago dropped by 60 percent, making the system easier for businesses to understand and navigate.
Guerra Lapacek had her hand in a range of policy issues like this one as first deputy director of the office of legislative counsel and government affairs. Before that she worked as deputy chief financial officer and deputy budget director. And even before Emanuel took office, Guerra Lapacek worked for his predecessor, Richard Daley.
Guerra Lapacek’s latest role makes her more responsible for the city’s business climate than ever. And she likes the challenge. In a press release announcing her promotion, Guerra Lapacek said she was grateful for the opportunity to create an environment that would encourage business growth.
“My parents were once small business owners,” Guerra Lapacek said, “so I am excited to continue the mayor’s push to make City Hall as open and accessible as possible to the next generation of entrepreneurs.”
She lists a number of initiatives that have made life easier for business owners in Chicago thanks to the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. Namely, an express lane at the Small Business Center to rapidly process quick requests, a website redesign for the Center to make it more user friendly, an online site selector tool to connect small business owners with office and factory space and free business education for entrepreneurs.
While she has been fully dedicated to her government career for years now, the commissioner wasn’t always in politics. She got her start as a broadcast reporter, and has worked for Telemundo in Chicago and California. She studied law and business at Depaul University, graduating with a JD and MBA.
As a proud Latina civil servant, working with small businesses in Chicago is a way for Guerra Lapacek to stay very connected to the Latino community. The number of Latino-owned businesses has increased far more quickly than the national average due, in part, to a cultural preference by Latinos to work for themselves.
“Having a business is what the American Dream is,” Guerra Lapacek said. “To come to this country, open a business and have a better future.”
From City Hall, Guerra Lapacek strives to be a help toward that dream for Latino entrepreneurs, not a hindrance.