JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ill. - We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Well, that’s what Jefferson County, Illinois said to itself almost three years ago when it found itself in real need of some good ideas.
In 2015 there were 35 Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) in Illinois. Today, that number is down to 28 due to state budget cuts. Jefferson County, a region with over 38,000 people about 90 miles southeast of St. Louis, is down to only three centers and all are south of Interstate 64, which means Jefferson County residents have to drive more than an hour for help navigating the minefield inherent in starting a small business.
To fill that void when local SBDCs closed in the area, STARTUP Jefferson County was created.
The group began as a joint effort by Pam Schallhorn, University of Illinois Extension Community and Economic Development educator and Jonathon Hallberg, executive director of Jefferson County Development Corporation. Their goal was to find a way to meet the needs of entrepreneurs and startup businesses in Jefferson County.
They hosted a public meeting in June to make a plan to meet these needs. The participants decided a monthly forum for networking and training would be the way to go. They created a Facebook group to schedule the forums, share upcoming topics and discuss relevant business issues. Some of the participants even offered to present sessions at the forums.
“Participants in the monthly STARTUP forums gain business knowledge, networking opportunities with other local business owners and an opportunity to ask questions about things they need to move forward in their businesses,” explained Schallhorn. “The setting is laid-back and informal, but allows for open inquiry on business topics from local experts.”
Members of STARTUP Jefferson County discuss profit and loss at the October meeting.
STARTUP Jefferson County includes a growing number of Jefferson County business owners, as well as would-be business owners. It meets on the third Wednesday of the month at 1 p.m. in the back room of a restaurant in downtown Mt. Vernon. The forums are fast-paced, casual and very welcoming.
Each forum features a different topic and speaker. Presentations are short, leaving plenty of time for discussion and questions. The topics are driven by the group, and focus on the subjects they want to explore. For example, local computer programmer and real estate developer, Russell Brown discussed “How to use the Internet for Business.”
Since then topics have covered different areas of finance and marketing, such as “How to Make a Profit,” which touched on profit and loss statements along with ways to minimize spending and maximize profit. Future topics will explore the legal structure of a business and the general process of incorporating for forming a LLC.
The group keeps growing as word spreads about the monthly forums.
Cheyenne Frick attended her first STARTUP meeting in October. She recently opened Buona Vita Boutique in Mt. Vernon. Her shop started as online only out of her condo in Orange Beach, Alabama. When she relocated to southern Illinois, she was determined to have a physical store and loved downtown Mt. Vernon. Things are going so well for her women’s clothing store that she is hoping to open a men’s clothing store in the same neighborhood.
Parker Johnson, owner of S.I. Drone Solutions, attended STARTUP Jefferson County with the hope to continue to learning from the group.
“I think this group is great for people like myself just starting out in business. It's a great resource.”
TOP PHOTO: Cheyenne Frick, owner of Buona Vita Boutique in Mt. Vernon, arranges some clothing. Frick attended her first STARTUP Jefferson County session in October.