Since it began in 1967, Illinois Central College has played a role in the workforce development of the greater Peoria area. ICC and its Professional Development Institute (PDI) have offered both academic programs and corporate and industrial training to help build and maintain the skills of our labor force. But what the community might not know is ICC also provides help for small businesses in procuring contracts with large companies or the government.

Susan Gorman heads ICC’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), a special program designed to help smaller businesses navigate the complex systems of contracting with big business and the government. PTAC is a state-affiliated agency funded through the Department of Defense/Defense Logistics Agency, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and Illinois Central College. The ICC PTAC is one of 10 in Illinois and more than 100 across the nation.

The purpose of PTAC is to match small businesses with federal, state, and local government agencies looking for specific products and services and to provide technical services to help them win contracts. For example, Bryton Technology, a cable assembly manufacturer, and Advanced Information Services, an information technology company, have landed government contracts totaling nearly $5 million during FY 2003 with the assistance of PTAC.

Since FY 1994, area companies have won government contracts totaling more than $70 million with the assistance of PTAC. The Illinois Central College PTAC, an affiliate of the ICC Economic Development Center and the Heartland Partnership, shares office space with the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, and other economic development organizations. "In our ’one-stop shop,’ we network, collaborate, and exchange referrals with our team of economic development specialists and help meet the needs of small business," Gorman explained.

One of PTAC’s major efforts is the annual Heart of Illinois/ECHO Fair. ECHO stands for Exchanging Contacts Helps Opportunities. In 1995, the Illinois Central College PTAC, in partnership with the City of Peoria, Caterpillar, EDC for Central Illinois, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Bradley University, IMEC, and others, founded the annual ECHO Small Business Fair, which brings government purchasing specialists and large business buyers together with small businesses. ECHO and the ICC PTAC work in collaboration with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Defense, and Defense Logistics Agency to host this annual event.

"The purpose of the fair is to give small business suppliers the opportunity to connect with new buyers in the government and the private sector and to increase opportunities for government buyers to identify new minority, women-owned, and veteran-owned businesses and Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUB-Zone) businesses as suppliers," Gorman said.

This year, the fair takes place October 1 at the Interstate Center in Bloomington. In 2002, the fair took place at the Peoria Civic Center and drew 140 government, large business, and minority and women exhibitors and 650 attendees. ECHO’s economic impact over the past nine years exceeds $9 million, according to Gorman. Among those who will join the ICC PTAC at the Fair are: Defense Supply Center of Columbus, Ohio; City Link; City of Peoria; City of Pekin; General Services Administration (GSA); Illinois State University; Pekin Federal Correctional Institution (FCI); Peoria County Auditor; Peoria Housing Authority (PHA); Scott Air Force Base; TACOM/Rock Island Arsenal; USDA; Economic Development Council Bloomington; and the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce.

PTAC and the ECHO Trade Fair illustrate just two of the ways collaboration among educators, state agencies, and large corporations can benefit small businesses and the local economy. IBI