COVID-19 relief options and additional resources

Cornelius Griggs, owner of Chicago’s GMA Construction Group, named SBA's 2019 Illinois Small Business Person of the Year

He'll join winners from around the country at national awards event in Washington
Release Date: 
Thursday, March 28, 2019
Jessica Mayle,

CHICAGO — The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Illinois District Office has named Cornelius Griggs, owner of Chicago’s GMA Construction Group, the 2019 Illinois Small Business Person of the Year.

Cornelius GriggsEach year, the SBA honors small businesses and small business advocates across the country who are creating 21st-century jobs, driving innovation, and increasing America’s global competitiveness. SBA Administrator Linda McMahon, in announcing this year’s Small Business Person of the Year recipients, has invited the winners from all 50 states to attend ceremonies in Washington, D.C on May 5-6, where the 2019 National Small Business Person of the Year will be named. Additionally, Griggs and other Illinois small business owners will be recognized at the SCORE Illinois Small Business Awards on May 16 at the Union League Club of Chicago.

“We are extremely proud to honor America’s most successful small businesses during National Small Business Week,” McMahon said. “These small business owners have shown tremendous dedication and perseverance. They are the job creators that fuel our economy and best represent the nation’s 30 million small businesses.”

A military veteran and Army Commendation Medal recipient, Griggs founded GMA Construction in 2009 out of his home office. Today, the firm, which provides construction and design-build services in sectors including education, health care, and affordable housing, has grown to occupy a 5,000-square-foot office in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood and employs 86 people. Sales have increased from $1 million in 2015 to $17 million in 2018.

Assistance from the SBA has helped GMA thrive. Two SBA-guaranteed loans in 2016 and 2017 allowed the company to upgrade software and office space, hire project-specific personnel, and invest in training resources to comply with industry standards. Griggs also graduated from SBA’s Emerging Leaders program in 2016, dedicating seven months to developing a strategic growth plan for his business.

“The SBA has been not only a strong advocate, but also a partner and mentor to our growing business,” Griggs said. “The additional knowledge and relationships I was able to acquire via the Emerging Leaders program afforded me the confidence to step outside my comfort zone and push the envelope of GMA.”

Griggs added that assistance from Emerging Leaders instructor Adam Callery and SBA staff members such as Illinois Deputy District Director Mark Ferguson helped GMA grow and prosper.

“Our mission is to ‘Develop People that will Transform Communities,’” Griggs said. “Because of the SBA, we get to fulfill this mission each and every day.”

In addition to the Small Business Person of the Year, several other Illinois small businesses will be recognized as part of the state’s National Small Business Week celebrations:

  • Rosemary Swierk, owner of Direct Steel, a general contracting and construction firm based in Crystal Lake; and Ruby Madrigal, owner of K9 University, a Chicago dog boarding and training facility, were named Illinois Rising Star Small Businesses.
  • Mother and daughter Deborah Chitty and Danielle Cyvas, co-owners of Warm N Cozy Quilting in Columbia, Illinois, were named Illinois Family-Owned Small Business of the Year.
  • Lisa Bitsky, owner of Romeoville-based Automated Design Corp., a company that specializes in sports research and development testing equipment, was named Illinois Small Business Exporter of the Year.
  • The Illinois Small Business Development Center at the Champaign County Economic Development Corp., directed by Don Elmore, was recognized for its wide-ranging services aimed at lifting up entrepreneurs throughout central Illinois, and received the Illinois SBDC Excellence & Innovation Award.

Each year since 1963, the president has issued a proclamation calling for the celebration of National Small Business Week, which is May 5-11 this year. Networking events, trainings, and other programming to help prospective and current small business owners will be held that week at the SBA Illinois District Office (500 W. Madison, Suite 1150, Chicago) and other locations throughout Chicagoland. Visit to learn more.

About the Small Business Administration

The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more, visit