1-on-1 with Chicago business commissioner Rosa Escareno on retirement, legacy

WGN Investigates

CHICAGO – After 30 years at City Hall, the woman leading Chicago’s business community is stepping away.

Rosa Escareno, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, has worked at seven Chicago agencies under four mayors and various job titles. 

It’s a career that began with the city a year out of high school. Escareno, the daughter of an immigrant family from Mexico, was brought to the United States by her widowed mother along with her five brothers and sisters.  

“Growing up as an immigrant kid, with a mom that arrived here, social services were so instrumental and necessary for us to survive,” Escareno said.

That experience attracted her to the government.  

Over the span of three decades, Escareno has seen some of Chicago’s toughest moments: the heatwaves in the 1990s, the 2011 Chicago blizzard and the 2012 Nato Summit.

In 2005, Escareno helped create the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. Along the way, Escareno has been instrumental in helping businesses amid the pandemic. She said it’s part of the reason she delayed her retirement.

“It was an incredible year and it’s a little bit of a fog because we forget how much happened,” Escareno said. “But I’ve never been in a situation where we had to tell businesses they had to shut down.”

Moving forward, Escareno remains optimistic about Chicago’s business community despite the challenges of the past, present and future.

Throught it all, Chicago remains a city she loves. It’s not clear what comes next, but as Escareno wraps up her final days as commissioner, she takes away with her 30 years of memories built at City Hall.

“I plan to be involved in some way.”

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