By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Pittsfield-based Two Rivers Resource Conservation and Development Area will use a federal grant to provide services to business with 10 or less employees in a five-county area.
The $30,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program was one of 10 handed out nationwide, and it was the only one in Illinois.
Under RMAP, USDA provides loans and grants to Microenterprise Development Organizations to help very small businesses -- with 10 or fewer employees -- access loans to start or develop businesses. MDOs use the funds to provide training and technical assistance to eligible small businesses or to establish revolving loan funds to provide loans, typically ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, to rural entrepreneurs.
"Everybody wants the company that brings in a lot of jobs, but a lot of our small businesses are driving the economy right now and increasing the general well-being of the area. We don't want to overlook them," Two Rivers executive director Brenda Middendorf said. "These funds allow us to focus more time on these specific small businesses."
Middendorf expects to see activities tied to the loan begin within the next 30 days in Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Pike and Schuyler counties.
In Pike County, for example, the RC&D will work with the Pike County Economic Development Corp. to offer programs tied to small businesses. Options range from "specific one-on-one assistance to develop business plans to specialized workshops for small business owners and other special events that will help them get more of a direction and focus for the business to have a higher rate of success," Middendorf said.
Two Rivers also is taking on oversight of Pittsfield's revolving loan fund.
"We have prior experience with revolving loan funds and still have a revolving loan fund available," Middendorf said. "It's a good match for us, especially with the new program and focus on small business."
Mayor John Hayden said the city was looking to get out of the revolving loan business but didn't want to see the funds -- some $60,000-70,000 -- leave the area.
"People were able to get loans for the same amount we were (offering), and it was becoming quite a bit of paperwork to make sure we had securities on loans," Hayden said. "We found out we'd be able to transfer that money to (Two Rivers). They promised to make it a line item, continue to use that money in the Pittsfield area and also take over what contracts we have. It made good sense to let them take care of it."
The City Council and RC&D board approved the change, which still must be finalized through USDA's Rural Development.
"That money will be delegated just for the city of Pittsfield," Middendorf said. "We'd like to say we had this all planned, but some things just fall together accidentally."
RMAP funding was reauthorized through 2018 in the 2014 farm bill.