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June 23, 2005


CHICAGO - Delivering on his Opportunity Returns pledge to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in the Chicagoland area, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today announced $250,000 in funding to launch the Illinois Hispanic Entrepreneurship Center (IHEC). Established through an innovative partnership between the state and the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the e-center is the first of its kind focusing on Hispanic businesses. The center will offer targeted services to all high-growth potential enterprises to accelerate their development into economically viable and sustainable companies that will grow and create jobs in Illinois. Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Director Jack Lavin and Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Director Juan Ochoa, joined by other state and local officials, made the announcement today at Universal Steel Works, 1135 S. Kolmar, to a collection of local business owners whose companies could benefit from the e-center’s services.

"I strongly believe that the talents and ingenuity of small firms are worth investing in. By working one-on-one with high-growth potential firms and giving them the resources they need to take their ventures to the next level, we’re not only fostering their individual success, but fueling more vigorous economic growth in their communities. This partnership with the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will fill a critical gap in the marketplace and help more individuals realize their unique American dream," Gov. Blagojevich said.

The IHEC will serve as a catalyst for high-growth potential small and medium-sized business enterprises to develop into economically viable and sustainable companies that will grow and create jobs in Illinois. IHEC client services will include:

· Identifying gaps and limitations in clients'/entrepreneurs' current operations

· Coordinating support services for clients/entrepreneurs that address gaps and limitations in their current operations

· Providing targeted accelerated services through IHCC programs for clients/entrepreneurs that have high-growth potential

"Gov. Blagojevich understands the vital importance of entrepreneurs and small businesses to the health and productivity of our local economy. The talent and resources that will be teamed in this effort are sure to be a critical difference maker in the success of small firms, and that’s great news for this entire region," said State Representative Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago).

Among the many specialized resources the Illinois Hispanic Entrepreneurship Center will offer is a financial award program to assist entrepreneurs or small businesses with obtaining professional services for comprehensive business plan assistance, evaluation of a proposed startup or expansion, or other accelerated support purposes. Maximum funding per award is up to $5,000 of eligible project costs. Over the last year and a half, 140 challenge grants have been awarded totaling nearly $680,000.

"The Illinois Hispanic Entrepreneurship Center will provide increased value to the Hispanic business community in its ability to provide services and award grants to businesses with high potential for growth and job creation. Illinois’ Hispanic business community has the potential to help fuel our local economy. With the support and leadership of Gov. Blagojevich, the Illinois Hispanic Entrepreneurship Center will work toward developing that potential for economic success and stability," IHCC President Juan Ochoa said.

There are currently 13 other e-centers up and running across the state, with two others located in Chicago. The Chicago West Side E-center was the first to open in June 2003 and is a partnership between Chicago Community Ventures and University of Illinois-Chicago. In October of 2004, the state partnered with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to expand the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC). These centers are all part of the Illinois Entrepreneurship Network (IEN), which is designed 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 e-centers and many other economic development centers supported by DCEO. The IEN website, www.ienconnect.com, features a free business needs assessment and a referral within 24 hours for personalized, face-to-face assistance. 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.

"Opportunity Returns continues to be an effective model for economic development by dedicating resources at the community level where they are needed most and working to create more genuine economic opportunity one person at a time, one business at a time and one job at a time. By providing entrepreneurs with the expertise, networks and tools they need to make their young ventures successful, the Illinois Hispanic Entrepreneurship Center will accomplish that same goal," DCEO Director Jack Lavin.

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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