Knox County

Our Progress

In Knox County, the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association (GREDA) and its community partners participated in training sessions, community exchanges, workshops and conferences throughout the three-year process supported by the USDA RCDI grant. These activities were all targeted to enhance partner knowledge and capacity surrounding one of the four key goal areas. The outcome of these activities is a strengthened and expanded network of service providers focused on supporting entrepreneurs, increased capacity, and an ongoing effort to continue the efforts born from the Building Entrepreneurial Communities in Knox County initiative.

Recognition of entrepreneurship as a economic development strategy has become a reality in Knox County through the creation of the Entrepreneurial Support Network (ESN). This initiative, which began focused in Knox County, has expanded to cover Knox, Warren, Henderson and Mercer counties. In the State of Entrepreneurialism and Innovation in West Central Illinois, ESN outlined accomplishments in four core strategies:

  • Build a sustainable network and support structure for entrepreneurs
  • Foster a culture of entrepreneurialism
  • Develop a comprehensive delivery system of programs and services that encourages entrepreneurialism and innovation
  • Educate, empower, and engage individuals, organizations and communities in building the entrepreneurial spirit

This network of service providers is dedicated to the advancement of entrepreneurs, the promotion of innovation, and the development of an entrepreneurial culture.

Developing tools to enhance entrepreneurship in the county has included the creation of Where to go for What: Navigating Business Services in Knox County. This publication was released in November, 2008 with 1,000 copies printed. Based upon the work of the North Carolina Rural Entrepreneurial Development System (EDS) collaborative and developed by Erik Pages from EntreWorks Consulting, the publication was adapted to provide new and existing entrepreneurs a directory of support services in the county, as well as tips and information regarding all phases of entrepreneurship development. The publication is being updated and reprinted in 2010.

Another Galesburg specific tool that has been created by the City of Galesburg is the Business Innovation Grant Program (BIG). In both 2009 and 2010, the City of Galesburg committed $50,000 in grant dollars to assist entrepreneurs operating in Galesburg to expand, enhance, or start businesses. Six awards were made in 2009, which facilitated the creation of four new businesses, and the enhancement of two others. This valuable tool was created in recognition of the myriad of research indicating the need for micro and mini loans to foster entrepreneurship.

Creating a culture that recognizes, supports, and celebrates entrepreneurs has been the focus of the creation of the Entrepreneurs, Pioneers, and Innovators Club (EPIC). This club was formed to provide existing and potential entrepreneurs an opportunity to network, learn, and collaborate. Many of the club activities have been modeled after the Fairfield Iowa Entrepreneurs Association example. Regional networking events have included Techfest, Guerrilla Marketing and Growing Your Own Business from Within; and other programs have provided training on key support strategies for economic development organizations to consider in support of entrepreneurship.

During Small Business Week in May 2010, Entrepreneurial Support Network (ESN) sponsored Eagle Awards. These awards were created to recognize the contributions of entrepreneurs, organizations, and individuals who have made significant contributions toward the creation of an entrepreneurial community. This will become an annual event, geared toward both recognizing and celebrating entrepreneurs. Part of the celebration included a newly developed publication Soaring on Eagles Wings: Entrepreneurs of West Central Illinois. This publication will take a case study approach to highlight successful regional entrepreneurs, covering not only their personal stories, but resources and tools they utilized or wished were available when starting out. These stories highlight the importance of entrepreneurship to our local economy and create tremendous learning opportunities for potential new business starts in the region.

Entrepreneurship Education in Knox County has included workshops, teacher/faculty education, and youth contests. In addition, ESN is partnering with Carl Sandburg College Center for Agriculture, Business, and Industry to identify potential workshops based upon information garnered from entrepreneurs. The Educational Technology Center is an example of the power of collaboration among these institutions. To learn more about this collaborative effort, click here.

The project also sponsored faculty from both Carl Sandburg College and Abingdon High School to attend entrepreneurship curriculum trainings, with the intent of incorporating entrepreneurial concepts into the coursework currently being offered. ESN is also sponsoring the first annual Youth Business Plan Competition in the spring of 2010. Winners in both the ninth and tenth grade category as well as the eleventh and twelfth grade category will receive a cash award, plaque, and a scholarship to the Eastern Illinois University eCamp. The winners will be presented their awards at the Small Business Award Luncheon, together with the Eagle Award Winners, giving the youth an opportunity to mingle with the business community.