Southeast Honored as Small Business Advocate of the Year


Lori Cox presents Kenneth W. Dobbins with the Small Business Advocate of the Year Award.

Lori Cox, director of the Southeastern Illinois Workforce & Small Business Development Center at Southeastern Illinois College, presents Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University, with the College’s Small Business Advocate of the Year Award.


June 17, 2008 – The Innovation Center at Southeast Missouri State University was honored as the Small Business Advocate of the Year at the 2008 Legislative Breakfast today at Southeastern Illinois College.

Southeast was honored for an entrepreneurial partnership it recently forged with Southeastern Illinois College to bring small business success to the 20 counties in southeastern Illinois under the charge of the Workforce & Small Business Development Center at Southeastern Illinois (SI) College.  

“It is a great honor to accept this award today on behalf of Southeast Missouri State University, the Missouri Research Corporation and the Small Business Development Center,” said Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University. “It is especially an honor for a Missouri university to be so honored by an Illinois organization.”

The SI College’s annual Legislative Breakfast celebrates the impact of small businesses on the nation’s economy and recognizes small business owners for their personal achievements. The Small Business Advocate of the Year award is given to an individual or organization that provides leadership in the area of economic development. The partnership between Southeast Missouri State University and Southeastern Illinois College is made possible through a grant offered by the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) to expand Operation Jump-Start business start-up training to more DRA counties throughout the Mississippi Delta.

Operation Jump-Start is a nationally-recognized, highly successful training model delivered to individuals considering starting or expanding a small business.  The program teaches participants essential business planning and preparation skills with non-academic, practical training. The model allows individuals to compete for small start-up grants after completing training and a feasibility plan. The Jump-Start model consistently produces businesses that are still in operation at an astounding rate of 96 percent after two years.   “Even though the U.S. Small Business Administration statistics tell us that at least 50 percent of all new start-up businesses fail within the first two years, we believe it is our small business training program that has helped our small business start-ups see a 96 percent success rate in two years,” Dobbins said.

The Delta Regional Authority (DRA) works to improve life for the residents of 240 low income counties and parishes in parts of eight states in the lower Mississippi Delta. Led by a federal co-chairman appointed by the president and the governors of the eight states, the DRA fosters partnerships throughout the region as it attempts to improve the Delta economy. Southern Illinois has 16 counties that are part of the DRA in extreme southern Illinois.  Missouri has 29 counties in the southeast portion of the state.  Southeastern Illinois College is located near Harrisburg and Eldorado, Ill., and has an enrollment of about 5,000 full- and part-time students. The college is a public two-year comprehensive community college created in 1960 to serve all or portions of eight counties.

“I would like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank the Delta Regional Authority for its infusion of $164,800 in grant money to expand this program into new territory and to allow Southeast Missouri State University and Southeastern Illinois College to partner and cross state boundaries to bring this very successful program to our regions,” Dobbins said.

The association of the Southeast Innovation Center and Southeastern Illinois College is critical because it will inject up to $20,000 in seed capital into the local economy in and around Saline and neighboring southern Illinois counties.  Harrisburg and nearby towns were hit hard by ice storms and flooding in 2008, and the opportunity for residents to participate in Operation Jump-Start comes at a time when it is truly needed in the region.

Lori Cox, director of the Southeastern Illinois Workforce & Small Business Development Center, said the time is right for this new program. She said several local businesses suffered this past spring due to flooding in Harrisburg. None of the businesses had flood insurance because the area is not in the flood plain, she said. Cox said she is proud of the region, the business owners and their faith to overcome and rebuild.

“This was an opportunity that Southeast brought to our college and to our economically depressed area,” she said. “It’s an opportunity our folks could not have afforded otherwise, and it was an opportunity we just could not pass up.”

Gina Harper with Southeast Missouri State University’s Innovation Center said, “The grant from the DRA asked us to offer our small business training program to other DRA counties outside of ours in southeast Missouri. We naturally turned to southern Illinois since their region and ours mirror each other in economic development growth issues and needs. Lori and her staff welcomed us and this training program with open arms. We couldn’t be more pleased to be partnering with them.”

Dobbins said entrepreneurs participating in Operation Jump-Start in Southeast Missouri have, over the past two and a half years, defied all odds, with 89 businesses being either successfully launched or expanded from the more than 285 people who participated in the program. These 89 businesses have created more than 115 new jobs in this area.

Operation Jump-Start uses the FastTrac Program curriculum developed by the Kauffman Foundation. The course is a 12-class program and includes materials on development of a business concept, market analysis, pricing, cash flow and other areas critical to business success. The program is designed for people in the low- to moderate-income ranges who are starting or expanding a small business. The course gives participants the opportunity to evaluate and test ideas in a safe and supportive environment.

Participants who successfully complete this free program and develop a business plan area eligible to compete for a grant of up to $3,500 to assist with business start-up expenses.

“Operation Jump-Start works because of partnerships,” Dobbins said. “These partnerships provide the talent, the dollars and, most importantly, the participants who will become our future innovators and entrepreneurs.”

Southeast Missouri State University has worked with such entities as Choice, Inc., a non-for-profit organization from Memphis, Tenn., along with the Division of Workforce Development, the Workforce Investment Board of Southeast Missouri, the Delta Regional Authority, the USDA, the Department of Labor and the Delta center in Portageville, Mo.

“We feel very privileged now to have the opportunity to work with Southeastern Illinois College’s Workforce & Illinois Small Business Development Center,” Dobbins said.

Southeastern Illinois will host an Operation Jump-Start class beginning July 8 and running two nights per week for six weeks.  Cox and Brandi Straub, small business specialist at the Workforce & Illinois Small Business Development Center at Southeastern Illinois College, will be providing the instruction.   Materials, start-up grants, and promotional advertising are being provided by the Southeast Innovation Center, and Southeastern Illinois College is providing the location and the instructors.  Those in the southeastern Illinois area interested in learning more about Operation Jump-Start may call Lori Cox at (618) 252-5001 Ext. 4.