Renewable Power Perspectives Q&A with Robert “A.J.” Patton, CEO of 548 Capital, LLC.

By Constance ThompsonAugust 31, 2021
Image courtesy of Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) is happy to share the third installation in our “Accelerating Renewables” blog site series.
Each installment features market leaders and topics associated with speeding up an equitable and simply shift to a sustainable energy economy. In recognition of National Black Business Month, our August functions highlight how three Black-owned Accelerate member companies are growing in the sustainable energy sector.
Robert “A.J.” Patton is a finance, sales, and capital markets specialist with more than a years of experience in investment banking, endowment management, and property analysis. In May 2016, A.J. founded 548 Capital, LLC, to integrate his proficiency and track record of producing consistent returns with an individual enthusiasm for helping transform neighborhoods and their impact on the planet. In 2019, Patton was called a recipient of the Energy News 40 Under 40 award– highlighting his effect on Americas transition to a clean economy.
LEARNT MORE: Up-and-Comer Developer Makes Headway without the Banks ( Chicago Sun-Times, August 27, 2021).
What inspired you to begin your business?
I had 2 pivotal moments that made me jump. In 1999, my mom got a $400 gas bill, and she was just making 10 dollars an hour, so we couldnt pay for the gas bill. A lot of individuals have similar anecdotes, and thats not an excellent thing
The 2nd essential moment was most likely 15 years back, as I was working for a company that was buying a host of things around the globe. Individuals were coming in to request for an investment around renewable resource, and I postured a question to them: “What you are finishing with these solar firms is amazing, and the cost of solar is coming down, however how does that aid daily individuals?” I asked, “Where are they in your equation? Where is their gain access to? They are paying an out of proportion amount of their income on energy.” They looked confused that I would even attempt inquire about the everyday individuals. They stated, “Well, you understand, low- and moderate-income families often reside in multi-family structures, and it is hard to get in contact with those developing owners. If you can not get in contact with the structure owners, you need to call specific households and the cost of getting those people informed and after that signing up for eco-friendly energy is not a beneficial business model.” So, I asked, “What if I owned the housing advancement and the solar?” And they said, whoever does that is going to change the market forever. I stopped my task. I think I turned in my resignation within 6 months of that discussion, and I began my business. I named it 548 Capital because that is the unit number in the general public real estate where I matured. Whatever is I do is targeted to households in those circumstances and focused on enhancing their quality of life

I think there is always a shock when individuals learn who is behind our company. Even in our own neighborhoods, individuals just cant think it. Putting individuals in rooms together so everybody can share notes is constantly valuable. We are also constantly prepared to host people if they want to see some of the sustainable technology we are putting in these communities. We host people when a week at our structure so they can see the innovation that were applying in communities that traditionally havent had gain access to.

Show us a recent success story.
We just recently joined Mayor Lightfoot for a press conference to announce that we will be building a $30 million, totally budget friendly and entirely sustainable development, in collaboration with the City of Chicago. We are building 50 residential systems, a cafe, a company center, all on the South Side of Chicago, which will expand solar-powered use in the city
What impact are you making?
I think there is always a shock when people discover who is behind our business. Even in our own communities, people just cant think it.
The other thing that I believe is important is we have a financial impact that resonates with individuals, and its a quite effective message. That amount of cash impacts the budget of daily families
What difficulties do you deal with? Why?
You cant skip the grind. Let me acknowledge that starting a business, any business, was going to be tough. With that said, access to capital is ungodly difficult. When I go to banks and say that were constructing sustainable real estate in low- and moderate-income communities, they look at me like Ive spoken the incorrect language. These neighborhoods are still being red-lined. Some banks dont wish to invest; they dont wish to partner; they dont wish to do their share. It is a fight of generational size that Im trying to combat here, and weve made very small, incremental progress. I think the lesson is that union building is essential. My voice only suggests so much, however the more I can bring good friends to the table and amplify that voice, the more we can raise attention to the requirement

Tell us about your company? (mission, partners, areas you run in, primary customers, and so on).
The vision of 548 Capital is to make sustainable innovations available for all: all communities, all households, everyone should have access. Someone, some entity, has to serve as the bridge so that those innovations reach everyone.

So what can companies like ACORE do to move that needle for you, to break down that barrier?
Putting individuals in spaces together so everyone can share notes is always valuable. Through the Accelerate program, weve had a chance to speak directly with bankers and tax credit syndicators which is magnificent. Then, if there are national corporations that can support our work that can also be a huge deal. Were presently dealing with a collaboration with Lowes, which is donating about $1,000,000 worth of products to support our jobs. Normalizing direct exposure, standing next to us and saying “these communities are worthwhile of financial investment”– you cant put a value on that
How can potential partners do business with you?
We are also always ready to host people if they want to see some of the sustainable technology we are putting in these communities. We host individuals when a week at our building so they can see the innovation that were applying in neighborhoods that traditionally havent had gain access to. Im constantly tough leading executives to put their name and face on these efforts since I believe that has real worth
How was your Accelerate membership benefited you?
Its been fantastic simply to meet the other Accelerate member business. I discovered a lot from having conversations with them in real-time, and finding out about people with totally different point of views. I enjoy the networking.
I believe we are doing the best we can do in the COVID environment. Feeling in ones bones that it exists, which ACORE is so deliberate about the program, makes a huge difference.