News Column

$700,000 Marked for Illinois Startups

July 8, 2013

Rebecca Lurye

After abandoning plans to launch a new business incubator, a county committee is hoping to meet a wider array of economic needs as it divvies up $700,000 among nine projects.

The initiatives range from an entrepreneurship Web portal and resource networks at rural libraries to enhancing support for technology startups. By lending seed money to each project, the committee aims to support work in progress and unite organizations doing similar work, said Rachael Parker, committee chairwoman.

"The money will be closer to the businesses if we can do it working through an existing facility doing almost exactly what we want it to do," she said. "I think it's just going to benefit everyone in the long run."

Committee members had planned to use about $300,000 from a Housing and Urban Development grant and $400,000 in county funding to form a minority- and women-owned business incubator. However, officials switched directions when they realized less than a million dollars wouldn't stretch far enough to purchase and renovate a new building, let alone staff and run an operation out of it.

While several projects require more study -- such as the possibility of allocating $100,000 to develop a free online course on entrepreneurship -- others are moving along.

With $25,000, the Illinois Extension Office is creating a master site plan and exploring two main options for the former Hanna City Work Camp property, said John Hammann, county rural economic development coordinator.

They could pursue an incubator for new farmers, teaching agriculture on a small scale, or provide a food hub where farmers can package and consolidate their products. The hub could also incorporate a food bus that would bring fruits and vegetables to areas of the city with slim access to fresh produce.

"We've got to find the right plan to fit everybody's needs," Hammann said. "We're really excited about it. There's so many possibilities."

Tentatively using about $50,000, the committee also hopes to inject more business resources into rural communities using public libraries.

Lillie M. Evans Public Library hasn't been approached yet, said library director Beth Duttlinger, but there's always room for more support.

"Cooperation between libraries is always a good thing," she said. "And to have a cohort that would work together to supply programming, that's a big thing we're missing out on."

The initiatives should help launch and retain businesses in the county, rather than simply attracting new companies to the city, said Mark Rothert, assistant county administrator for economic development.

"You've got to have a more holistic look at it," he said. "It's an attempt to build and foster a really interesting innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem and Peoria County is really taking a lead here."

FOLLOW THE MONEY:

Nine projects addressing underserved areas of the county's economic development are in the works. While each requires additional planning, the Peoria County Minority Business committee is tentatively allocating:

- $100,000 to benefit corporation Thrive Capital, supporting the creation of HUB Peoria in the former Blaine-Sumner School.

- $100,000 for developing Startup Peoria, a proposed resource for technology entrepreneurs and businesses.

- $100,000 to implement a program to help businesses grow beyond startup.

- $100,000 to work with Illinois Community College in developing a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC).

- $100,000 to create a business and entrepreneurship Web portal.

- $70,000 to help create more qualified, minority construction contracting firms.

- $50,000 for enhancing business-related resources at rural libraries.

- $25,000 toward a master site plan and business plan for Hanna City Work Camp's transition to a food hub or farming incubator.

- $25,000 toward analyzing the financing challenges faced by technology startups.

Rebecca Lurye can be reached at 686-3251 or rlurye@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @beccalurye.

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(c)2013 Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)

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Source: Copyright Journal Star (Peoria, IL) 2013


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