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Illinois Country Living

Help Available for Your Business
Recovery money exists for rural Illinois, too

By Jonie Larson

With unemployment rates in the state of Illinois lingering around the 10 percent range, communities are looking for magic bullets to reestablish their economic footholds.

Judith Roussel, Director of the Illinois District of the U.S. Small Business Administration, says there are some very good programs in place to help entrepreneurs start up or expand their businesses. While her office is in Chicago, a population center for the state, she says the SBA has a commitment to small and non-agricultural businesses, too. Agriculture has its own funding sources.

A primary example dates back about a year and a half, when the SBA started a new loan program to get rural banks to use the SBA, a government program that uses no taxpayer dollars. The program encouraged banks to make loans with the reassurance of a 50- to 90 percent federal guarantee on their repayment. To further encourage the use, the majority of the loans are now guaranteed at the 90 percent rate. Fees to the borrower, which initially helped cover the program, have been eliminated.

Was it successful? In the last fiscal year, which ended at the close of September, Roussel said loans to Illinois businesses backed by the SBA totaled $438.6 million for 1,640 businesses, both existing and new ventures.

The total has been on the rise since February when federal recovery money became available. In fact, Roussel said prior to Oct. 5, the SBA had seen a 222 percent increase over the numbers recorded in the last week in January.

The SBA offers more than loans to those in rural areas. In fact, Roussel says two components of the organization – SCORE and the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) – are tremendous resources.

SCORE, which at one time stood for Service Core of Retired Executives, is a not-for-profit counseling service started by the SBA years ago. The organization has reinvented itself to also include expert volunteers of all ages who help give counseling and training at no cost to interested business owners/operators.

Roussel said SCORE’s experts try to find the perfect business opportunities for its clients. Members will look at the economic environment and propose changes if needed. They can help an owner know when it’s time to expand or if there’s a niche opportunity.

Another plus with SCORE is that volunteers with the organization will counsel by phone, online or in person.

“They will invest (time) in that person, as much as they need,” said Roussel.

A second resource, Roussel recommends as a starting point, is the SBDC. Its services, which are typically located on community college campuses, are extensive.

Interested in starting a business? Personnel at the SBDC will assist in writing a business plan. It’s very hands-on, says Roussel, noting that the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has the cooperative contract to help fund that program with a dollar per dollar match.

Roussel says the program is a success. She says between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009 the SBDC served 19,581 clients, counseling 8,699 and training 10,882. SCORE had impressive numbers, too. Volunteers counseled 4,457 and trained 4,304.

GETTING STARTED: One Web site will get you all the information you need, says Roussel. Here’s how the online map to assistance reads.

  • Go to
  • Locate the link to Illinois Small Business Development Centers under Resources.
  • Click IEN locator.
  • Put in address.

The same is true for SCORE.

  • Click link to SCORE’s Web page.
  • Put in address.



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