The Cross County Innovation Center has received a $75,000 grant from the Google.org Impact Challenge. The statewide competition selected ten Illinois nonprofits with bold, new ideas to create economic opportunities in their communities. Now the public has the chance to select the best of the ten projects to receive the People’s Choice Award and an additional $250,000 in funding. Anyone with a connection to Mattoon or the surrounding areas can show their rural pride and rally for this project by visiting g.co/illinoischallenge and casting a vote for the Cross County Innovation Center. Voting will be open from 12:00 p.m. on February 6 through 11:59 p.m. on February 13.
The Cross County Innovation Center will be located in Rural King’s Cross County Mall in Mattoon and serve as a mixed-use, co-working space for small businesses, startups and non-profit organizations in Coles County and the region. Members will receive important business support services that have left the area due to state budget cuts. The space will also be the new home for ClassE students who are learning how to become the next generation of entrepreneurs in Coles County.
“Your vote for the Cross County Innovation Center will give entrepreneurs in East Central Illinois new resources to start and grow their businesses,” explains John Leonauskas, VP of Marketing for Rural King. “We are asking to create a space, but it is more about what will happen in that space – new ideas will collide, start-ups will learn and be mentored, entrepreneurs will collaborate and be given the assistance they need to grow and in turn, our region’s economy will grow as well.”
The $75,000 Google.org Impact Challenge grant will fund the first of three phases for the development of the Innovation Center. The first phase will focus on retrofitting the space and updating the electrical, plumbing and communication lines. The second phase of the project will provide completed workspaces with finished interior design and is projected to cost around $250,000 – $300,000. The third phase will include more community partnership for support services and operations.
“As a region, we can win this extra $250,000 to help Mattoon and the surrounding areas move forward and bring much-needed business mentorship and guidance back to our area,” states Ed Dowd, Executive Director of the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce. “If we win the $250,000, the Innovation Center will be able to open in August 2019. If we don’t win the People’s Choice Award, the opening will be delayed to allow for additional time to raise funds.”
Mattoon and surrounding communities are currently losing many entrepreneurs who choose to relocate to larger urban areas due to lack of support services or space for startups. Over the last six years, the county has lost the Small Business Development Center office, the SCORE volunteer organization, and Eastern Illinois University’s Business Outreach Center. As a result of this and other economic issues plaguing Illinois, the population in Coles County is declining and losing young people to larger cities that supposedly have more to offer.
The loss of business was identified as one of the top five concerns during the city’s recent visioning process called Mattoon in Motion. This community volunteer organization identified economic and business development as one of its top goals. They began to explore ways to start new businesses, create jobs, and retain talent in the area.
Creation of the Cross County Innovation Center (CCIC), a project of Mattoon in Motion, will help solve this concern by providing a “hub” that is centrally located and viable for local entrepreneurs and innovators to access the resources they need to turn their ideas into reality. As the Innovation Center grows, leaders predict that it will be a driving force in producing 50% more new patents in our area within the first three years of operation. More information about the Cross County Innovation Center can be found online at https://mattooninmotion.com/our-innovation-center/. Mattoon in Motion is a fund of Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation.