PRINCETON — A regional approach to economic development of the Illinois Valley Area will be more successful than each town working by itself to create jobs.
That is the primary goal of the Starved Rock Country Alliance, a group of business people who have formed the Starved Rock Capital Fund LLC (SRCFF), which aims to create jobs by providing capital and advice to entrepreneurs wishing to start or expand businesses in the region.
Dave Lourie, general manager of Total Environmental Service Technologies (TEST Inc. of Peru), was the master of ceremonies for the meet and greet event held at Flour House Bakery in Princeton on Aug. 28.
“We have an opportunity collectively to really make a difference,” he said. “Dick Janko and I have a common goal on how to make it better, and how you can get people involved. We are never happy to settle. We want to see tomorrow be better than today.”
“We both recognize that this area of the Midwest is ripe for opportunities of all types to start businesses and raise their families and retire here,” he said. “We would rather live in this area. It is a lot safer and a lot friendlier than other towns. I would rather live in an environment where I can make a difference instead of just being a number. In the big cities, you know you are just a number.”
The common denominator after coming out of the downturn (2008-2011) is great jobs, reported Lourie. If you have great jobs, everything else falls into place.
One side of this idea is people who have been successful who can be a mentor to young people starting out in business or older people who have been in business for 10 years and have hit a brick wall, added Lourie. They are either afraid of the next step or people are afraid of taking it to the next level. That is what we want to do, and we are going to do.
“The other side is helping people who have a great idea but don’t know how to take that idea and make it a reality. In turn, we are going to be working with communities and banks,” said Lourie.
“This is not about Princeton. This is not about Oglesby, This is not about Peru. It is not about Spring Valley. It is not about what I can do for my town, but what can I do for our area,” he said.
“Even though towns in the Illinois Valley are great, Springfield doesn’t take towns seriously by themselves when they need a grant to fix infrastructure. If you take all towns in the area and go to Springfield with 150,000 some odd votes, they are going to listen to us. That’s the key. There is strength in numbers. We are going to break down these walls that everybody has. Every town has a chamber of commerce. I applaud them. We are just another tool for the chamber of commerce,” reported Lourie.
Whatever towns get a factory or new business helps the entire area.
“What is good for Ohio is good for Walnut. That is the mentality we have to understand in going forward with this project,” he said.
“We are not going to get Chrysler to build a plant here. If I can get another bakery, cafe or Italian restaurant or art gallery or theater group, there is something special about a regional approach. We can create jobs. I am confident.
“We can get our kids to stay here. They need something to do after 5 o’clock when the day is done. We need social. We need good restaurants. We need arts. We need bakeries and delis. Why do we have to travel to Naperville to enjoy eating out? Why do we have to travel to Chicago and spend all that money when we can get the same quality we can have here. This is what we are trying to do with our program,” added Lourie.
Team members have years of experience and tons of credibility, Lourie said.
“This is no fly by night dream. We are serious about what we do,” said Lourie. “We want you involved in it. You are as important as a Peter (Limberger), Inga (Carus) or Dick (Janko) or myself or the banks.
“We need the input. This has never been done before, but it is going to be done. We hope you get involved, but if you don’t, we understand,” Lourie said.
Janko said each town should have an incubator program to use empty buildings for prospective businesses.
Limberger said Janko’s greatest talent is to attract people, and the group will promote the area.
“It is not so easy for banks to loan money anymore. This is a for-profit investment fund and get 5 percent return on your investment in small or existing businesses,” Limberger said. “We will have no rules like the banks. The fund will have a say in the businesses.”
Investors will need to put in $20,000 to $100,000 in the fund that will benefit the area, not managers who won’t get any pay or bonuses.
“We have four or five potential investments already waiting for the funds,’ reported Limberger.
Al Forristall of Midland States Bank said the Starved Rock Country Alliance is made up of folks who make things happen, not just talking about things happening. Brandon Behrens of Heartland Bank said local banks will invest in this fund.
“Banks usually are very cutthroat toward each other,” said Forristall. “However we are less competitive than usual through this fund.”
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