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

By Constance ThompsonAugust 31, 2021
Photo thanks to Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) is pleased to share the 3rd installation in our “Accelerating Renewables” blog series.
Each installment features industry leaders and subjects associated with speeding up an equitable and just shift to a renewable resource economy. In recognition of National Black Business Month, our August functions highlight how 3 Black-owned Accelerate member companies are flourishing in the renewable resource sector.
Robert “A.J.” Patton is a finance, sales, and capital markets specialist with more than a years of experience in financial investment banking, endowment management, and property analysis. In May 2016, A.J. established 548 Capital, LLC, to integrate his know-how and performance history of creating constant returns with an individual passion for assisting transform communities and their effect on the world. In 2019, Patton was named a recipient of the Energy News 40 Under 40 award– highlighting his effect on Americas shift to a tidy economy.
CHECKED OUT MORE: Up-and-Comer Developer Makes Headway without the Banks ( Chicago Sun-Times, August 27, 2021).
What inspired you to start your business?
I had 2 turning points that made me jump. In 1999, my mom received a $400 gas bill, and she was just making 10 bucks an hour, so we could not afford the gas costs. And so, unfortunately, we had our gas and heat shut off. For around a year in my teenagers, we needed 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 quality of life is moving forward; those moments are with you forever. As I discuss that with different groups around the nation, it has actually become clear that my experience is not an abnormality. A lot of individuals have similar anecdotes, and thats not a good idea
The second turning point was probably 15 years earlier, as I was working for a company that was buying a host of things all over the world. Individuals were can be found in to request for an investment around eco-friendly energy, and I positioned a concern to them: “What you are doing with these solar firms is incredible, and the expense of solar is coming down, but how does that aid everyday people?” 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 dare inquire about the daily people. They stated, “Well, you know, low- and moderate-income families typically live in multi-family buildings, and it is hard to get in contact with those building owners. If you can not get in contact with the structure owners, you have to contact specific families and the expense of getting those individuals informed and after that signing up for sustainable energy is not a favorable company model.” So, I asked, “What if I owned the real estate development and the solar?” And they said, whoever does that is going to alter the marketplace permanently. So I stopped my task. I think I turned in my resignation within 6 months of that discussion, and I started my company. Because that is the system number in the public housing where I grew up, I called it 548 Capital. Everything is I do is targeted to families in those scenarios and focused on improving their quality of life

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

Inform us about your business? (mission, partners, regions you operate in, primary consumers, and so on).
The vision of 548 Capital is to make sustainable innovations accessible for all: all neighborhoods, all households, everybody needs to have access. Someone, some entity, has to serve as the bridge so that those technologies reach everyone.

Show us a recent success story.
We just recently signed up with Mayor Lightfoot for a press conference to announce that we will be building a $30 million, completely sustainable and completely budget friendly advancement, in collaboration with the City of Chicago. We are developing 50 domestic systems, a cafe, a service center, all on the South Side of Chicago, which will expand solar-powered use in the city
What effect are you making?
I think there is always a shock when individuals discover who is behind our business. Even in our own neighborhoods, individuals just cant believe it.
The other thing that I think is necessary is we have a financial impact that resonates with individuals, and its a pretty effective message. Were aiming to cut energy costs for families in half. Thats a huge deal, you know. That amount of money effects the budget of daily families
What obstacles do you deal with? Why?
You cant skip the grind. Let me acknowledge that beginning a service, any company, was going to be tough. With that stated, access to capital is ungodly difficult. When I go to banks and say that were developing sustainable housing in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, they take a look at me like Ive spoken the wrong language. These communities are still being red-lined. Some banks dont wish to invest; they do not desire to partner; they dont wish to do their share. It is a fight of generational size that Im attempting to battle here, and weve made really small, incremental development. I believe the lesson is that coalition building is essential. My voice only indicates a lot, however the more I can bring friends to the table and amplify that voice, the more we can raise attention to the requirement

What can organizations like ACORE do to move that needle for you, to break down that barrier?
Putting individuals in spaces together so everybody can share notes is constantly valuable. Through the Accelerate program, weve had a possibility to speak straight with bankers and tax credit syndicators which is magnificent. If there are nationwide corporations that can support our work that can also be a huge deal. Were presently working on a partnership with Lowes, which is contributing about $1,000,000 worth of materials to support our jobs. Stabilizing direct exposure, standing beside us and saying “these communities are worthy of investment”– you cant put a worth on that
How can possible partners do service with you?
We are also always ready to host individuals if they want to see some of the sustainable innovation we are putting in these communities. We host people as soon as a week at our structure so they can see the technology that were using in neighborhoods that traditionally have not had gain access to. Im always tough leading executives to put their name and face on these efforts due to the fact that I think that has genuine worth
How was your Accelerate subscription benefited you?
Its been terrific simply to fulfill the other Accelerate member companies. I learned a lot from having conversations with them in real-time, and learning more about people with completely various perspectives. I love the networking.
I believe we are doing the very 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 big distinction.