Getting Local and State Governments Involved
Putting Learning Into Practice
A good place to begin to understand the policy environment for entrepreneurs in Illinois is at the state level. Illinois has made progress in trying to create a stronger system of support for entrepreneurs by connecting service providers across the state. In 2005, the state launched the Illinois Entrepreneurship Network (IEN) as a way of bringing together a range of resources to help entrepreneurs, large and small, start and grow. Partners in IEN include:
- The Small Business Development Centers – Helping entrepreneurs with new and existing small businesses.
- The Procurement Technical Assistance Centers – Helping entrepreneurs who want to sell products and services to government agencies.
- The International Trade Centers – Helping entrepreneurs who are ready to engage in exporting.
- The Manufacturing Extension Centers – Helping small and medium-sized manufacturing entrepreneurs improve their competitiveness.
In addition, the state created the Illinois Business Portal – “State government in one place. No Lines. No Hassle.”
These efforts by the state help entrepreneurs and other small business owners connect more effectively with resources. At the same time, they help to raise awareness of the role of entrepreneurs in the state’s economy and to show that the state is committed to support their entrepreneurial endeavors.
At the regional level, the examples of policy change tend to focus on the third role suggested above – creating awareness about the importance of entrepreneurs to the local economy. Many of the sites’ activities have brought attention to entrepreneurs, whether through presentations to chambers, civic clubs, workforce investment boards and economic development organizations or through higher profile events such as the launch in February 2009 of the first National Entrepreneurship Week (NEWeek) in North Central Illinois marked by proclamations from four counties and several municipalities. In another example, the Entrepreneurship Committee of the Tri-State Development Summit has added visibility to entrepreneurship along with other economic development activities of the Summit, including transportation, tourism and workforce development.
There also is evidence of investment in entrepreneurship activities – the role of providing resources – in a number of sites. For example, a number of organizations are contributing staff support to the ESN of North Central Illinois in Henderson, Knox and Warren counties. The city of Galesburg and Carl Sandburg College have invested in building infrastructure to support entrepreneurs, including the new Business Innovation Grant fund.
A final example of policy change can be seen in the emphasis placed on entrepreneurship education and youth in all of the sites. To the extent that school systems integrate entrepreneurship education into the curriculum, it represents a type of policy change that can have important impacts on how young people view their career options. For example, Warsaw and Carthage High Schools have successfully integrated entrepreneurship education resources from a number of curricula into their vocational education programs, creating an emphasis on entrepreneurship for students and marking a change in the way these school systems value the connection between entrepreneurship and vocational education.
Policy change is often an incremental process. Over time, we would expect to see these pilot sites use the success of their entrepreneurship efforts to advocate for more resources, regulatory change that benefits entrepreneurs and small business owners, and additional awareness raising initiatives that will collectively help to create a more entrepreneurial community.