Welcome to Peoria Magazine’s Small Business edition, dedicated to those who take the risks that drive our economy, often against formidable odds.
This month we partner with Bradley University’s Turner Center for Entrepreneurship to shine a spotlight on 10 central Illinois businesses/entrepreneurs making their marks.
From Sorce Freshwater, the East Peoria start-up pursuing a promising business opportunity while simultaneously doing right by the environment – reducing the Illinois River’s Asian carp overpopulation for food and more, a twofer if ever there was – to 23-year-old Michael Kuzma, the recent Bradley grad who has invented a self-playing guitar, we found models of ingenuity and pluck.
They are inspirations, every last one.
And they are critical to our way of life. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, our mom-and-pops “are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy,” creating two-thirds of net new jobs – 3 million alone in 2021, the highest recorded in a single year (good news for Labor Day, just around the corner) – while generating 44 percent of U.S. economic activity.
Indeed, nearly 33 million small businesses employ more than 61 million people in in America. Yet arguably it has gotten harder for them, in many ways. Recessions, pandemics and government mandates can hit them disproportionately hard. They are not exactly first in line when the “too big to fail” money starts flowing.
I developed something of a soft spot for the sole proprietors out there when I became one myself. In 2018, I was laid off. I long had wanted to scratch my own entrepreneurial itch, but I needed the nudge that only unemployment in one’s late 50s can provide.
When I finally decided to hang my own shingle with a communications consulting business – following a Turner Center seminar, of course – what I discovered was liberating and scary.
I loved the independence, working from home, setting my own hours, seeing the grandkids more, pursuing clients that I wanted to work with. I’m grateful to those who took a chance on me. But I also became very familiar with the almost-disincentivizing costs of health insurance, taxes and middle-of-the-night anxiety attacks. Early on, there often was too little cash flow for comfort as the bills kept coming no matter the unreliability of the paychecks.
Alas, my little learn-on-the-fly business grew. In retrospect, my previous employer did me a favor.
Francie Hinrichsen, who runs Founding Females and is profiled in this month’s mag, said it well: “What I’ve figured out is that entrepreneurship is … not (about) having a certain business acumen. It’s not having a certain degree under your belt. It’s not having a certain background.” Instead, it just means being “a little brave and willing to be uncomfortable because what that leads to is some beautiful outcomes. I realized if I can do this, anyone can do this.”
The Turner Center is a big help for many business dreamers in navigating those sometimes-choppy waters. For years, the word on Peoria was that it was an inventive place, but not all that entrepreneurial. The Turner Center, under the direction of Jim Foley, deserves no small amount of credit for helping to turn that around, to establish that can-do culture.
We’re excited about this issue. We were privileged to score an interview with Jim Bullard, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis, for our EconCorner. Speaking with Bob and Carolyn Turner, the entrepreneurs/philanthropists whose generous donations helped make the Turner Center possible, was a joy. Jack Gilligan provides a history lesson while reminding us of the importance of the rule of law … for business, for everything.