A Publication of WTVP

Community Partner of the Year

Morton Chamber and EDC are building ‘an entrepreneurial ecosystem’

by Phil Luciano | Photos by Ron Johnson |
Turner Center Nominee: A group standing in front of Morton Marketing posters

Pound for pound, the one-two punch of the Morton Chamber of Commerce and the Morton Economic Development Council
packs an extraordinary wallop.

Indeed, the combination long has floored the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship, which is honoring the pair as the Community Partner of the Year. 

“The key message is that for a relatively small organization, they really do a lot to lift up local small businesses, including startups and existing businesses,” said  James Foley, the Center’s director. “They have really creative programming and even micro-grants. But they also always partner with us, so we help amplify the other.”  

“That great partnership, and the many great things they do, is what this award celebrates.” 

CEO and executive director of Morton Chamber/EDC

That partnership is vital to Morton as well as to Leigh Ann Brown, the CEO and executive director of the two organizations. Though they are separate, they work together. The same can be said for their relationship with the Turner Center as well as The Illinois Small Business Development Center at Bradley University. 

The “vast majority of our Morton business community is small business, generation companies, lifestyle businesses and entrepreneurs,” Brown said.  “Connecting these businesses into the SBDC network is one key element.” 

That cooperation was cited in the award justification: “The Turner Center relies on the support of local economic development entities to ensure the promotion of our services as well as coordination of strategies and goals. Without a coordinated, cooperative effort, we could easily send mixed messages to the business community. The Morton Chamber/EDC demonstrates the best model of this type of partnership through continually promoting our centers and services, and keeping strong lines of communication.” 

The Turner Center also lauded the Chamber and EDC for energizing local commerce, in part through a microgrant program that provides $1,000 to $5,000 for entrepreneurs starting businesses in Morton. 

Brown pointed to multiple approaches to “building the small business/entrepreneurial ecosystem.” One is “MortonMIXER,” networking sessions that feature advice from seasoned business owners and connect attendees with available resources such as the SBDC. 

Another is the SmartStar Dashboard Platform that shepherds would-be entrepreneurs through hoops and over hurdles in all facets of getting a business up and running and helps them grow following start-up.  

“The SBDC is a key service provider and mentor resource throughout this system,” Brown said. “This is a way to channel people down the right … path for success.” 

The Chamber and EDC often use their websites to link to SBDC services and information. Plus, the Morton groups invite SBDC staff to events as a way to foster new and continued connections throughout the business community.  

Meantime, Turner helps Morton get plugged into further help from Bradley. For instance, Brown recalls a 2019 “workforce livability analysis” done in part via a BU senior project. The study highlighted areas that Morton needed to address, including opportunities and challenges in the residential market, as well as a “perception of Morton being a higher-dollar market to live in,” Brown said. The study helped sparked plans for several apartment developments, totaling more than 100 rental units. 

With that kind of success, expect Turner to continue to have a positive effect on Morton.

Phil Luciano

Phil Luciano

is a senior writer/columnist for Peoria Magazine and content contributor to public television station WTVP