Western Illinois University wants to do more to help the Quad Cities area create new businesses and expand existing companies. In January, the university opened its second Small Business Development Center on its riverfront campus in Moline. WIU also opened a new, International Trade Center.
WIU’s Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs oversees the centers. And when Director Dr. Chris Merrett learned the Quad Cities no longer had a small business development center, he asked the state for help. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity decided to give WIU a 300,000-dollar grant for the first year: We know that there’s a lot going on where we could be working with business students as well as the engineering students. In previous years, we’ve done things like student business plan competitions. We’ve had, sort of like a shark tank kind of experience where we may be able to — thinking out loud here — finding a way for seed money for student business planning, and that sort of thing. Here’s one success story from the Macomb campus. Its small business development center helped a WIU student get a micro-loan to open a Hookah Lounge in Macomb. The self-employed entrepreneur will be able to graduate debt-free. Merrett says the International Trade Center on the Moline campus will also benefit businesses and entrepreneurs in the Macomb area. “There’s over 100,000 people. There are places like Quincy that also have companies that are doing international trade.We know for example, in Macomb, we have Apella. We have manufacturers… Even in rural Illinois there are manufacturees who if they don’t have international trade plans nowthey may have in the future, and so having an international trade center expert is really going to serve our businesses well.” Two new positions have been created, and one has been filled. Michelle Lewis worked at the International Trade Center when it was located at Black Hawk College. She’s already started working at Western’s Quad Cities campus.