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Behind the scenes of progress
by Susan O’Neill
Storefronts, factories and offices demonstrate the visible presence of a business to the public. Organizations such as a chamber of commerce, economic development corporation or small business development center, while not as much in the public eye, can nonetheless have a tremendous impact on the local business community.
Chambers of commerce
Elburn and Sugar Grove each have a chamber of commerce that serves its business community. The Elburn chamber’s mission, similar to that of Sugar Grove’s, is to promote economic development, strengthen the business climate and improve the quality of life in the area.
Each chamber has leads groups, through which members network to share business opportunities and referrals. Members are encouraged to promote each other’s businesses and utilize each other’s services whenever possible.
The chambers sponsor events within the community, such as Elburn’s Day in the Park and the Sugar Grove Farmer’s Market. Both groups hold an annual golf outing. They sponsor grand openings to announce the presence of new businesses to the community.
The chambers also provide exposure for their members through their mailing lists and websites. Sugar Grove Chamber Board President George Silfugarian said the Sugar Grove Chamber recently set up a new website that provides its members more functionality and opportunities for advertising. Silfugarian is a certified financial planner with Financial Security Group, Inc.
Businesses also enjoy visibility when their members participate in chamber activities within the community.
â€œPeople get what they give,â€ Elburn Chamber Board President Bill Brauer said. Brauer, president of the American Bank and Trust on Main Street, has been involved in many of the chamber’s activities. â€œWhen you get more involved, you’re more visible in the community.â€
Predominantly a volunteer organization, the Sugar Grove chamber recently hired its first employee, executive director Shari Baum. Two years ago, the Elburn chamber hired its first office administrator.
Both groups have seen significant membership growth in the last five years. Elburn’s chamber grew from 130 members to 189 at the end of 2008. Sugar Groveâ€™s is currently at 160 members, up from 50 five years ago.
Economic Development Corporation
Sugar Grove created the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) in 2003. Its purpose was to work with existing businesses to help them thrive and grow and promote the village to other businesses as a good place to locate their operations.
The EDC is a combined initiative between the village of Sugar Grove and local businesses. However, it is a private entity, not a governmental unit. The distinction has allowed businesses to explore options for locating within the community without the initial publicity.
The organization started out with five founding member businesses, and hired former Sugar Grove trustee Perry Clark as executive director at the end of 2003. Three years later, membership consisted of 37 businesses.
During his tenure, Clark and other village officials marketed the village of Sugar Grove to potential industries and other businesses and attended the International Council of Shopping Centers to promote the village to retailers.
EDC membership grew until the recent downturn in the economy led to a decrease in its size and budget. Clark resigned from his leadership position in August 2008 to run for village president, and the organization found it did not have adequate funding for a full-time replacement.
According to Village President Sean Michels, the EDC has been put into hibernation mode until the economy begins to pick up again.
Illinois Small Business Development Center Waubonsee Community College
Funded by the Small Business Association, WCC’s Small Business Development Center provides advice and resources to entrepreneurs considering starting a business, as well as help for existing businesses. Center coordinator and business consultant Harriet Parker said the clients she sees are about equally split between start-ups and existing businesses.
Created in the mid-1990s, Parker said the SMDC at Waubonsee is part of a national network of organizations. Parker, who took over the SMDC in 2006, has 20 years of hands-on management experience with four different start-up companies in the software and high-tech industries.
Clients are often referred to the center through a bank, after they have applied for financing. Parker works with individuals to create a business plan, help them qualify for financing and show them how to complete all the documentation to incorporate a business.
Parker helps current business owners with growth strategies and expansion plans, marketing ideas and in developing the infrastructure necessary to grow to the next level.
She works one-on-one with individuals, and the center also offers classes on topics such as business record keeping and taxes, break-even analysis and how to buy a franchise.
The resources she provides include market research data, competitive analysis and due diligence on a company an individual is looking to acquire, among others. She added that she often connects clients with others who can help them.
â€œI’m not the expert on everything, but I know a lot of people who are,â€ she said.
Since Parker came to the center in 2006, she has helped with 48 business starts, the creation of 163 jobs and the retention of 153 jobs. The clients she has advised have received $2.7 million in bank financing.
â€œI think we’re under-appreciated for the economic impact we have on the area,â€ she said. â€œThe U.S. economy is the world’s largest. Small businesses in the U.S. make up the world’s second largest economy.