This week, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan toured the Main Street of Momence, Il, to view the positive growth made possible by USDA’s investments in rural revitalization. The community was decorated with corn stalks and fall mums to welcome Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan to this town of 3,200 people, located 50 miles south of Chicago. Merrigan and Momence residents enthusiastically toured several businesses that received financing thanks to a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG), administered by the USDA Rural Development agency. Last year USDA provided a $99,000 grant to “Main Street Momence,” a preservation and volunteer based economic development program, to help them establish a revolving, low-interest loan fund. The program is designed to help small businesses locate or remain in Momence’s historic downtown area. Thirteen months later, four businesses have taken advantage of the increased access to credit by taking out loans. As a result, these businesses have created 27 new full time jobs and saved another 21 in this past year alone.
USDA Rural Development State Director Colleen Callahan accompanied the Deputy Secretary on the tour, visiting three of the businesses that have already taken advantage of the revolving loan program. First on their tour was Yannis on Washington, a Greek restaurant that needed new signage and a new door to create a more inviting entrance. Building owner John Valaveris was excited to share with Merrigan his appreciation for the agency’s support for small businesses.
Next on the tour was a stop at C& C Construction and Kanga Roof, both companies owned by the Morris family. Kathy Morris talked about the dramatic improvements they were able to make to the façade of their offices. Judging by the “before” picture, the transformation has been impressive, bringing the storefront back to the ambience of an earlier day.
Merrigan’s last stop was at Johnny Angels, an Italian restaurant, where she had an exceptional lunch. Owner Mike Caspers used the low-interest loan to put new roofs on the two buildings that house the business.
Janine Loftus, executive director of Main Street Momence, hosted the tour and community gathering for Merrigan at the program’s office. Merrigan commended her for the speed with which businesses were able to access the revolving loan funds. Loftus said they had the program up and running in three months. She thanked Merrigan for helping them retain and create jobs and stimulate commercial activity in their historic downtown district.
The Mayor, Mick Porter, summed it up best when he said, “I see this as an example of what a Federally and regionally funded program is intended to do, namely getting funds to small businesses to establish themselves . . . or to keep their businesses alive and well.”
Special thanks to Joan Messina with USDA in Illinois for her assistance.