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

By Constance ThompsonAugust 31, 2021
Picture courtesy of Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) is delighted to share the 3rd installment in our “Accelerating Renewables” blog site series.
Each installment features industry leaders and topics associated with speeding up a fair and just transition to an eco-friendly energy economy. In recognition of National Black Business Month, our August features highlight how three Black-owned Accelerate member companies are thriving in the eco-friendly energy sector.
Robert “A.J.” Patton is a financing, sales, and capital markets specialist with more than a decade of experience in financial investment banking, endowment management, and realty analysis. In May 2016, A.J. established 548 Capital, LLC, to integrate his competence and track record of developing consistent returns with a personal enthusiasm for assisting change neighborhoods and their influence on the planet. In 2019, Patton was named a recipient of the Energy News 40 Under 40 award– highlighting his effect on Americas shift to a clean economy.
FOUND OUT MORE: Up-and-Comer Developer Makes Headway without the Banks ( Chicago Sun-Times, August 27, 2021).
What inspired you to start your company?
I had two turning points that made me leap. In 1999, my mom received a $400 gas bill, and she was just making ten bucks an hour, so we could not afford the gas costs. And so, sadly, we had our gas and heat shut down. For roughly a year in my teenagers, we had to boil water and carry it as much as a porcelain tub to take a bath. Those were uniquely difficult times, and experiences like that simply stick to you. I dont care what occurs the rest of your profession or what your lifestyle is progressing; those minutes are with you forever. As I talk about that with different groups around the nation, it has become clear that my experience is not an anomaly. A great deal of individuals have similar anecdotes, whichs not a great thing
The second essential moment was most likely 15 years ago, as I was working for a firm that was purchasing a host of things worldwide. Individuals were coming in to request a financial investment around renewable resource, and I posed a question to them: “What you are finishing with these solar companies is amazing, and the expense of solar is boiling down, but how does that assistance everyday individuals?” I asked, “Where are they in your equation? Where is their access? They are paying a disproportionate quantity of their income on energy.” They looked confused that I would even attempt ask about the everyday individuals. They said, “Well, you know, low- and moderate-income families frequently live in multi-family structures, and it is difficult to get in contact with those building owners. If you can not get in contact with the structure owners, you have to get in touch with private households and the cost of getting those individuals educated and then signing up for sustainable energy is not a favorable organization model.” So, I asked, “What if I owned the housing development and the solar?” And they said, whoever does that is going to alter the market permanently. So I stopped my job. I believe I kipped down my resignation within 6 months of that discussion, and I started my company. Since that is the system number in the public housing where I grew up, I called it 548 Capital. So everything is I do is targeted to households in those situations and concentrated on improving their quality of life

Tell us about your company? (objective, partners, regions you operate in, main customers, etc.).
The vision of 548 Capital is to make sustainable technologies available for all: all communities, all households, everybody ought to have access. Somebody, some entity, needs to function as the bridge so that those innovations reach everybody. Thats what my objective is, and luckily we are growing. We are presently headquartered in Chicago, however we will be announcing some brand-new areas this fall

Show us a recent success story.
We just recently signed up with Mayor Lightfoot for an interview to reveal that we will be constructing a $30 million, totally budget-friendly and completely sustainable development, in collaboration with the City of Chicago. We are constructing 50 residential systems, a cafe, a service center, all on the South Side of Chicago, which will expand solar-powered usage in the city
What impact are you making?
I think there is always a shock when people discover who lags our company. Even in our own communities, people simply cant believe it. To me, thats quite satisfying. People seeing whos behind 548 Capital matters.
The other thing that I think is important is we have an economic effect that resonates with people, and its a pretty powerful message. That amount of money impacts the budget of daily families
What obstacles do you face? Why?
When I go to banks and state that were developing 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. I think the lesson is that union structure is crucial.

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

So what can organizations 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 important. Through the Accelerate program, weve had a possibility to speak directly with lenders and tax credit syndicators which is amazing. Then, if there are nationwide corporations that can support our work that can also be a huge deal. Were presently dealing with a collaboration with Lowes, which is contributing about $1,000,000 worth of materials to support our projects. Stabilizing exposure, standing beside us and saying “these neighborhoods are worthwhile of financial investment”– you cant put a worth on that
How can possible partners do service with you?
We are also constantly willing to host individuals if they want to see some of the sustainable technology we are putting in these neighborhoods. We host people when a week at our building so they can see the innovation that were applying in neighborhoods that historically havent had access. Im constantly difficult leading executives to put their name and face on these efforts because I think that has genuine value
How was your Accelerate subscription benefited you?
Its been terrific simply to satisfy the other Accelerate member companies. I learned a lot from having discussions with them in real-time, and discovering people with absolutely different point of views. I enjoy the networking.
I think we are doing the finest we can do in the COVID environment. Feeling in ones bones that it exists, and that ACORE is so deliberate about the program, makes a big distinction.