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March 29, 2005


CHICAGO - Continuing to deliver on his Opportunity Returns promise to promote entrepreneurship and innovation, Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced today the launching of the Illinois Entrepreneurship Network (IEN) to help create jobs and high-growth businesses across Illinois.  Throughout the state, small business owners looking to expand their companies can connect with business experts through local Entrepreneurship Centers and many other economic development centers supported by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).  The first innovative effort of the network is a new IEN Web site, www.ienconnect.com, which features a free business needs assessment and a referral within 24 hours for personalized, face-to-face assistance.  This Web site is yet another tool that makes it easier to cut through the red tape and increase business access to valuable state resources; Gov. Blagojevich recently announced www.business.Illinois.gov in his State of the State address in February to help businesses find the information they need from state government all in one place.
“Entrepreneurial activity has become the most important job growth engine of the national economy, and the guiding force behind the Illinois Entrepreneurship Network is to capitalize on this growth by helping entrepreneurs succeed and create new jobs across Illinois.  Together, through hard work and innovation, we’re building a more vibrant, prosperous and entrepreneurial economy,” Gov. Blagojevich said.
Entrepreneurs, who call toll-free to the IEN information center (800-252-2923), can also connect with service representatives who will assess their business concerns and direct them to the local resources that best meets their needs.
“There certainly is no shortage of hardworking people or viable business ideas across Illinois.  The mission of the Illinois Entrepreneurship Network is to provide entrepreneurs with the critical resources needed to convert those good ideas into thriving businesses, and, by doing so, convert the economic promise of Illinois into greater prosperity,” State Senator Arthur Wilhelmi (D-Crest Hill) said.
From Carbondale to Champaign to Chicago, Gov. Blagojevich has dedicated more than $3 million to open 13 entrepreneurship centers statewide to coordinate all small business development activity.  The Entrepreneurship Network also includes a partnership with economic development centers across Illinois funded by DCEO, including the Small Business Environmental Assistance program, Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC), International Trade Centers (ITC), NAFTA Opportunity Centers (NOC) and Illinois Manufacturing Extension Centers (IMEC).  
“The Illinois Entrepreneurship Network plays a vital role in helping ensure that entrepreneurs and small businesses have the access to capital, networks and new markets that are essential to commercializing technology and allowing young ventures to succeed in the marketplace.  Gov. Blagojevich continues to make the kinds of investments that are crucial to sparking economic growth and job creation on a regional level,” State Representative Marlow Colvin (D-Chicago) said.
Ninety high-growth companies across Illinois have received $440,000 in challenge grants from the Entrepreneurship Network to assist with obtaining professional services for comprehensive business plan assistance, evaluation of a proposed start up or expansion, or other accelerated support purposes.
“The Illinois Entrepreneurship Network is playing a critical role in helping young firms with high growth potential develop into economically viable and sustainable companies that will grow and create Illinois jobs.  We’ve done our homework in studying the strengths and challenges of growing a small business, and these centers are designed to offer targeted services most in need by local entrepreneurs, including access to capital, markets, networks and technology,” DCEO Director Jack Lavin said.  
In February, Gov. Blagojevich launched a one-stop online Business Portal where businesses that interact with the state can get all the forms and information they need at one location.  Previously, businesses had to comb through numerous state agencies’ Web sites or visit multiple offices to comply with requirements and regulations.  Businesses can now log on to www.business.Illinois.gov to find the information they need from state government all in one place.  The Web site provides information to business owners at all stages of their business’ development: from starting a new business, to maintaining an existing business, to changing a business.  The site allows businessmen and women to get their questions answered, download forms, licenses and permits, and locate information about different programs and services available to them. 
Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns regional economic development strategy is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history.  Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn’t work, the Governor has divided the state into 10 regions – each with a regional team that is empowered and expected to rapidly respond to opportunities and challenges.  Opportunity Returns is about tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to businesses.  It is about upgrading the skills of the local workforce, increasing the access to capital, opening new markets, improving infrastructure, and creating and retaining jobs.  Opportunity Returns is about successfully partnering with companies and communities, both large and small, to help all of Illinois reach its economic potential.


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