A Publication of WTVP

When taking a trip to another city, state or region, wouldn’t most travelers look to visit establishments that are unique and representative of the particular area they are visiting? If this is the case, there is a good chance that these establishments are small and/or family-owned, making it important to understand the influence that these businesses have on a community.

Not only do small businesses provide authentic experiences to travelers, they also create the most new jobs in a community, while also driving creativity and innovation. According to the Small Business Administration, a small business is defined as one employing 500 employees or less, so it may not come as much of a surprise that the bulk of the workforce in any community works for small businesses.

Yet many small businesses are a great deal smaller than this. Roberta Parks, president of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, reports that approximately 75 percent of its members are businesses consisting of 25 or fewer employees, illustrating just how vital small businesses are to a community. Consider also that many small businesses are family-owned. Illinois Mutual, for example, is in its fourth generation of family leadership, and it remains highly engaged in the central Illinois region. Such examples reflect just how much small, family-owned businesses add to the culture and dynamic of a city or region.

One program that truly highlights the importance of small, family-owned businesses within a community is the Illinois River Road. The Illinois River Road, a national scenic byway defined by a 10-county area, provides cultural, recreational, historical and nature-influenced opportunities—nature tourism—to byway visitors.

“Nature tourism is the fastest growing form of tourism,” reports Anaise Berry, director of the Illinois River Road. “It appeals to those travelers looking to get off the beaten path and seek a real adventure and an authentic experience. It is the authenticity of local businesses that attract visitors and other businesses to the area and enhance the overall experience.”

Mission Oak Inn, a bed and breakfast in Henry, Illinois, is just one family-owned business along the Illinois River Road. Within five years of opening, it has already won regional and national recognition. “No one represents a business or community to a customer more enthusiastically than the owner,” say Denny and Jan Reed, husband-and-wife owners of the B&B.

In a recent business development study conducted by the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois (EDC) and targeted specifically at the byway region, it was found that 93 percent of these businesses are in fact family-owned. Eighty-six percent of the business owners are entrepreneurs, and 88 percent of these businesses have two or fewer full-time employees. It should also be noted that many business owners in the byway region located their business in their hometown, which is important when considering growth and development. Not only is it crucial to attract visitors and new businesses to a region, it is also important that the locals want to stick around.

Continuing prosperity for regions like the byway is due in part to services provided through the EDC. Business development studies like this one support the growth and development of regional economies, enabling communities to embrace new opportunities that will enhance and develop local experiences. Although small businesses better reflect the culture of a region and give customers a real taste of what a community has to offer, it can be difficult to get your own business off the ground. Fortunately, several other resources and services are available to those looking to start or grow their own business.

The EDC is a portal for a wide range of business development services. “We are a proactive organization dedicated to fostering economic growth within the central Illinois region,” states EDC President Vickie Clark. “We deliver value by capitalizing on business expertise and developing synergies that attract, retain and expand business.”

Also housed under The Heartland Partnership umbrella, in collaboration with the EDC, are regional affiliates and organizations with which small businesses can connect to facilitate economic development. These include SCORE, the Illinois Finance Authority and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). Peoria’s own chapter of SCORE, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to entrepreneurial education and success, provides free, confidential business mentoring to entrepreneurs and small business owners looking to get their ideas up and running. The Illinois Finance Authority provides the support necessary to help businesses get the capital they need to grow. The DCEO provides tax credit programs, workforce training and financing programs to regional businesses.

Aside from connecting your business to these partner affiliates, the EDC provides its own economic development tools to small businesses, such as low-interest loan programs, sales and property tax incentives, and technical assistance. By partnering with regional organizations, the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois provides the resources and assistance necessary for the growth and development of small businesses. iBi