Illinois News

Businesses of many types find help in Quincy area

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 9, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Dec. 9, 2017 11:39 pm

QUINCY -- Lisa Crocker, the owner of Potter & Vaughn, said owning a business startup "can be exhilarating and frustrating at times."

Two years after opening the shop at 504 Hampshire, Crocker doesn't have any employees. But the downtown shop's expansion into a neighboring space has given her new momentum. Sales have been climbing and Crocker is enjoying her success.

On the east end of town, Rack Builders Inc., has been growing by leaps and bounds since the company was launched in 2009.

"We had five people when we started. Now we've got about 135," said Rack Builders CEO Bob Johannessen.

Potter & Vaughn and Rack Builders are part of a wave of businesses that have been launched since the recession began a decade ago. Several Quincy area business people say they see a strong economy where businesses can succeed.

Long-time Quincy businesses also have been growing. Bryant Burke, vice president of global operations and services at GatesAir, said the company has grown its work force by about 30 percent this year. The company, founded in Quincy nearly a century ago, now has 220 employees.

Burke expects more growth in the next few years as global customers go to digital formats, the Federal Commerce Commission repacks the broadcast spectrum and new transmitters will be needed to match up with the resulting channel assignments.

"As we continue to ramp up over the coming quarters, our direct work force will increase another 25 percent on first and third shifts," Burke said.

U.S. Small Business Administration statistics indicate there are 28.8 million small businesses nationwide. The small business designation takes in all businesses with fewer than 500 employees and accounts for 99.7 percent of all U.S. businesses.

The Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce has been promoting programs that help entrepreneurs start businesses.

Latonya Brock, the Chamber's executive director, said an annual Business Plan Competition was launched by her predecessor in 2012. It has attracted between 10 and 20 applicants each year.

"We've been presenting $10,000 a year to the competition winner. Now we're trying to offer more than one a year," Brock said.

Alta King, who has coordinated the Business Plan Competition, said entrepreneurs are welcome to apply for the funds for as long as funds are available.

"We know that not everybody is ready to open a business at the same time each year. That's why we've opened it up for worthy business plans year-round," King said.

The packet going to applicants has been tweaked in recent years with a checklist of what is needed in business plans. Applicants are urged to work with SCORE volunteers -- the Senior Corps of Retired Executives who mentor aspiring entrepreneurs free of charge. They often use Chamber space at the Oakley-Lindsay Center.

Cynthia Haliemun is chairman of the Quincy Tristate SCORE as well as dean of Quincy University's School of Business. She is working with 11 volunteers who mentor people considering a new business. In recent years they've counseled people starting cleaning services, warehouses, self-defense classes, quilting and online bookstores. Two necessities for any business are to have a sound business plan and plenty of capital.

"If they can predict revenue to be higher than the cost, it is likely that they will succeed. If they cannot forecast the revenue and expenses for three years, it is likely that they will drop out," Haliemun said.

Many fledgling business owners also are unprepared for the amount of time their startup will require. Others may lack the marketing skills to make sure customers know where they are and what they offer.

Jessica Mayle, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Small Business Administration, said the SBA's online learning center has tutorials, classes and webinars on topics ranging from social media marketing to how to prepare a loan package. SBA also offers an online business guide that Mayle said "walks a prospective entrepreneur through the early stages of launching a venture."

Mayle said SBA records for the 18th Congressional District show that in the last fiscal year there were 69 loans worth $40.9 million.

"Eight of the 69 loans went to businesses in the accommodation and food services industry. Nine went to health care and social assistance businesses, nine went to retail trade businesses and eight loans went to professional, scientific, and technical services businesses. We also saw loans going to businesses in the arts-entertainment-recreation sector, construction, and manufacturing," Mayle said.

Marcel Wagner Jr., president of the Great River Economic Development Foundation, said most of the startups he's seen in Adams County are retail operations. His office tries to tell entrepreneurs about all the resources available to them. In addition to loans, there are assistance programs through individual organizations or the state. Some taxing districts have abatement of property tax increases for a set number of years. Others collect the higher taxes, but use the money to improve the immediate area.

Wagner also believes that even greater things are coming.

"I think one of the things that will come out of the Quincy Strategic Plan is that it will foster more entrepreneurship efforts," Wagner said. "It's not something where you're going to see progress within months. It's a long-term strategy to grow our economy."

Quincy University, John Wood Community College and Western Illinois University already assist businesses. They may offer classes that train workers for skilled jobs. Western Illinois University also has a Small Business Development Center which can help businesses look at exports or other types of international growth.

At GatesAir, Burke said John Wood Community College is a training partner. GatesAir relies on the school to "develop training to instill, effectively and efficiently, job-required skills, knowledge, and attitudes to support the manufacturing process."

The school benefits with students who have good jobs awaiting them. GatesAir benefits from a work force that is better prepared for available jobs.

Growth at Rack Builders already has been impressive.

Bob Johannessen said several longtime friends and coworkers who formerly worked at Konstant Products Inc. "took a leap of faith" to work at the company that builds high-quality racking components and accessories. They got started while the U.S. economy was still reeling from the housing market crash and recession of 2007 and 2008.

Konstant Products, which also built racks, closed in 2012.

The building Rack Builders occupies has expanded three times and now has 160,000 square feet of space.

Johannessen said adding to the building is easier than adding to the workforce.

"Help is really getting tough" to find, Johannessen said.

Crocker measures success on a different scale. After a career in broadcasting and then marketing for a large life insurance company, she came back home to Quincy in 2014.

"I had been gone for about 35 years. I was looking for something to do," Crocker said.

"What attracted me to coming downtown was what was happening in the District. I had the idea that things were taking off."


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