Monday, June 29, 2020

Pekin Community Bank's Andy Sparks to Retire

After 45 years of banking, Andrew J. Sparks will be retiring on June 30, 2020. Andy will still be associated with the bank in a capacity to assist others with his past clients as needed. 

Andy has been a banker in Pekin for 33 years and the last 15 years with Morton Community Bank. His latest title held was Executive Vice President where he managed the Pekin Location and served on various committees in the bank including the Executive Loan Committee, Board Appointed Loan Committee, and Asset and Liability Management Committee. 

Andy was involved in many community boards during his tenure in banking. Those included past President of the Pekin Chamber of Commerce, The Dirksen Congressional Board of Trustees, The Pekin Hospital Board of Trustees as Chairman, The Economic Development Advisory Committee at the City of Pekin as Chairman, Rotary International. Andy and his wife Trina plan to travel and play golf, and visit family in retirement. 

On behalf of the Pekin business community, we wish Andy many years of happy retirement!

Your Employment, HR and Re-opening Questions Answered

The Illinois Small Business Development Center and Turner Center for Entrepreneurship,
at Bradley University, have partnered with local attorneys from Miller, Hall and Triggs LLC to provide answers to your troublesome questions. During this live conversation webinar, our team will address questions you have regarding HR and employment law during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Questions Covered:

·     What COVID-19 related laws should I worry about?
·     What is the difference between layoff and furlough?
·     Can I legally take each employee's and customer's temperature?
·     If someone has a fever, can I ask them to leave/not enter?
·     Can I require employees and customers to wear a mask?
·     Legally, can I require employees to be tested or obtain documentation from their doctor that they are permitted to work?


Joshua Herman has practiced law since 2008, concentrating in employment and labor law, municipal law, school law, commercial law, and related litigation.

Joshua received his Bachelor’s degree in 2003 from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. After his deployment to Iraq as an Army Reservist, Joshua attended the Chicago-Kent and the University of Illinois Colleges of Law. While at the University of Illinois, Joshua received the Best Trial Advocate and Best Oral Advocate awards in addition to being on the Green National Moot Court Team. In 2008 he obtained his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois College of Law, graduating summa cum laude and receiving the Rickert Awards for Excellence in Advocacy and Excellence in Academics. He is also a member of the Order of the Coif.

In 2011, Joshua was recognized by the Illinois State Bar Association as Illinois’s Young Lawyer of the Year for his contributions to his clients and the profession. Joshua continues his service to the law as an active member and contributor of the Illinois and Peoria County Bar Associations. Finally, Joshua remains dedicated to serving his local community and he sits on the boards of directors for many local non-profit organizations.

Robert B. McCoy has practiced law since 1994, concentrating in school law, municipal law and litigation.

Robert attended Earlham College where he received his Bachelor’s degree in 1987. He then obtained his Master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School in 1990. He received his Juris Doctor degree, magna cum laude, from the University of Illinois in 1994. After graduating from law school, Robert was a law clerk for the Hon. Robert W. Cook, Illinois Appellate Court, Fourth District, before working as a staff attorney for Prairie State Legal Services, Inc.

Robert is admitted to practice in Illinois and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois. Robert is a member of the Peoria and Illinois Bar Associations, the Illinois Council of School Attorneys and the Order of the Coif.

Katherine Swise has practiced law since 2010, concentrating in municipal law and school law.
Katherine received her Bachelor’s degree in 2001 from Knox College. She later attended the University of Illinois College of Law, graduating summa cum laude in 2010. While at Illinois, Katherine was a member of the University of Illinois Law Review and the Order of the Coif.

Katherine is admitted to practice law in Illinois, and is a member of the Peoria County and Illinois State Bar Associations and the Illinois Council of School Attorneys.

Date: Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Time: 12:00pm - 1:00pm (CDT)
12:00pm - 12:30pm Presentation
12:30pm - 1:00pm Attorneys will take questions from participants.

To register for the webinar, click here.
There is no cost to attend.
This webinar will be recorded.

Ameren Grant Offer Expires June 30th

Ameren Illinois Offers Hardship Grants up to $500 to Small Businesses and Non-profit Organizations Until JUNE 30th

Ameren Illinois announced that funding is available for small businesses and non-profits that have fallen behind on their electric bills. Under the company's COVID-19 Economic Hardship Recovery Program, one-time grants of up to $500 will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis until June 30, or until the funds are exhausted.
"This has been a challenging time for many small businesses and non-profits that have experienced economic hardship due to COVID-19," said Richard J. Mark, chairman and president of Ameren Illinois. "As these organizations begin to re-establish their operations, it's my hope that this funding will help them along the road to recovery."
To be considered, businesses must have an active, non-residential account, 50 or fewer full-time employees, and a principal office in Illinois. Eligibile businesses may include, but are not limited to: small commercial enterprises, restaurants, clothing stores, hair salons, flower shops, and fitness facilities. Eligible non-profits may include, but are not limited to: schools, day cares, senior centers, religious organizations, community organizations, and charitable organizations.
Grant recipients will have the funds applied to their Ameren Illinois electric account. To apply, visit or call the Ameren Illinois Business Center at 800.232.2477.
Ameren Illinois also announced several new energy efficiency offerings to help small businesses and non-profits to reduce their energy usage and save money. Eligible customers can receive a free lighting assessment, free smart thermostat, and a free energy analysis tool. Call 866.800.0747 or visit

6 Ways to Improve Customer Trust

People buy from those they know, like, and trust. “Knowing” comes from marketing and advertising. “Like” is cultivated by showing potential customers your human and endearing side. But how in the world do you help someone with minimal interaction with you and your business, trust you?
It’s not as hard as you may think.

1.    Be Transparent in Your Copy

Stay away from extreme superlatives—biggest, cheapest, most awesome ever. These claims make you sound like a disputable business and often are hard to believe. If you want to make an “-est” claim because you truly believe it, consider a guarantee to back up your word such as “cheapest price on this item in town or we’ll refund you the difference.” Someone who’s willing to make that claim must have confidence in it.

2.    Work at Getting More Reviews

People believe reviews written by strangers much more than they believe marketing copy. Focus at least part of your marketing on improving the numbers of reviews you have and their quality. Ask customers to review you. Make it easy for them to do so by providing URLs to the sites that are most helpful to your business/industry. If you’re not sure how to do this, The Referral Engine by John Jantsch is a good place to start.

3.    Answer Bad Reviews in a Helpful Way

You won’t always receive excellent reviews. Just take a look at the site Trip Advisor where someone complained because a beach in Thailand was too “sandy.” Even the best businesses must deal with illogical critics on occasion. 
But instead of getting angry or telling them there’s nothing you can do about that, remember everyone who wrote a review gave up moments of their lives to do it. Thank them for sharing that with you and then see if there’s a solution you can help with. If not, suggest something they might try instead. 
After all, you are answering this review as much for the person who wrote it as you are for the people who read it afterward.

4.    Answer Questions Even If It Doesn’t Always Benefit You

One of the biggest ways to make a truthful impression on someone is to answer their question honestly even if it doesn’t benefit your business. For instance, let’s say you run a handyman business. The homeowner asks if you can perform a specific service. While you know you can, you also know it will take you much longer and be costlier if they have you do it over someone who specializes in it. 
You can take the work, or you can explain that while you offer many quality services, they’d be best off using a specific professional and offer them a referral. The next time they need a handyman, you can bet they’ll be calling you because your truth telling just saved them money even though it cost you business. That type of truthfulness makes a very favorable impression.

5.    Create Mutually Beneficial Relationships

Unless you are a one-person business, your employees are likely the ones dealing directly with your customers the most. You need to ensure they feel motivated by your mission. Taking the time to improve your company culture can have great effects on your customer outreach just as helping your customers understand your mission and why you do what you do will make them want to buy from you.

6.    Join the Chamber

Your local chamber is the voice of business and most customers see it on the same level as the Better Business Bureau. A company that is willing to invest in its community is one that will be around to honor its guarantees.
Today, people want more than a competitive price. They want to believe in the company they are buying from. One way to sway public opinion about your business is to improve trust.

Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers, and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in the Midwest Society of Association Executives’ Magazine,, and AssociationTech. She is a regular blogger at and the Event Manager Blog. 

She’s a bookish writer on a quest to bring great storytelling to organizations everywhere.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Illinois Central College Announces Fall 2020 Plans

 Illinois Central College announced today the learning options for the Fall 2020 semester. These decisions were based, first and foremost, on ensuring the health and safety of our students and employees.  The college has created a plan that is flexible, safe and effective to help students achieve their educational goals. ICC will offer Fall 2020 courses in four formats – Online Anytime, Online Scheduled, Hybrid courses and Clinicals and Internships.  

Online Anytime is a traditional online course, providing a convenient, flexible and student-centered way of learning. Students log in and complete their course assignments day or night, without coming to campus.  

Online Scheduled is an online class at a scheduled time. Students log in to their class at the scheduled times and participate in live, video-supported classes with their instructor and classmates. This online course format is the most comparable to the face-to-face, on-campus experience.    

Hybrid courses will include online lectures and on-campus attendance to complete labs or hands-on experiences. For fall, this will be reserved for courses requiring face-to-face instruction for hands-on learning. The on-campus experience will include social distancing, specific entry and exit points, and personal protective equipment for students and faculty. 

Clinical and Internship experiences will continue at the off-campus locations as long as the hosting partner is able.    

“Offering Online Anytime and Online Scheduled classes allows our students the structure and flexibility to continue their education in the format that works best for them,” said ICC President Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey. “Our approach ensures quality educational outcomes while providing our students the opportunity to continue progressing toward completing their credential. We are currently adjusting the fall schedule based on these options but encourage students to enroll now to lock in their preferred classes.”  

Regardless of the way students take classes at ICC, all will have access to the same virtual support and services, such as academic support, counseling, free tutoring, library services, career advising and more. All these services may be accessed at 

View the college’s video explaining the formats here. Class registration is available at 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

2020 IDOT Fall Planning Conference


In case you missed it, the IDOT Bureau of Planning announced the dates and call for topics for the 2020 IDOT Fall Planning Conference.  In consideration of these unprecedented times, we have decided to move to a virtual format this year and schedule a series of webinars for the month of October. The theme for this event is "Planning to Rebuild Illinois".

The webinars will be scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. on October 6, 8, 13, 15, 20, and 22.  There will be additional information forthcoming via e-mail on how you can register for these sessions. 

We still need your topics!  The Fall Planning Conference is an event for you. We would like to deliver content about your good work or areas of interest. If there are innovative planning activities, initiatives designed to identify and address economic or social inequity, SPR projects, Rebuild Illinois issues, or other ideas you'd like to share, learn about and discuss with your colleagues please use the link below to submit them for this event. We will use them to develop plenary sessions and topic-based webinars.  Once we have the subject matter fully developed, we will provide detailed information on the content of each webinar.

To submit a topic, simply click here or the link below and complete the form.

Please respond by June 26. If you or a colleague would like to be added to the distribution list for future emails or if you have any questions about the content of this email or the topic submittal process, please submit a request to:

Pritzker Administration Announces Availability of Additional SBA Loans

Pritzker Administration Announces Federal SBA Declaration to Make Additional Low-Interest Loans Available for Businesses and Communities Damaged by Civil Unrest

Following request by State of Illinois, SBA declaration will unlock low interest, long-term loans; Program initially available for Cook and surrounding counties
SPRINGFIELD – Governor JB Pritzker today announced the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has approved the state’s request for federal assistance to help businesses in the northern Illinois counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will. The declaration stems from looting and other damages that took place in connection to civil unrest occurring May 26 through June 8, 2020. The approved SBA disaster declaration makes low-interest loans of up to $2 million available to eligible for businesses, homeowners, renters, and non-profits.
To help businesses facing damages as the result of recent civil unrest and looting, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) worked closely with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) to survey the damage from recent civil unrest and help businesses submit documentation.  To be eligible for an SBA declaration, at least 25 homes and/or businesses in a county must sustain major, uninsured losses of 40-percent or more.
“Without a question, COVID-19 has placed an unprecedented burden on businesses across our state, and recent damage sustained during civil unrest only makes matters more challenging for business owners,” said Acting Director of DCEO, Michael Negron. “These SBA disaster loans will provide an essential resource for Illinois businesses who are looking ahead to make repairs and reopen safely.”
The DCEO-IEMA survey of damages in Cook County identified at least 40 businesses that sustained major damages and uninsured losses.  Another 95 businesses in Cook County sustained minor damage. The damage assessment estimates more than $20 million dollars in damages due to recent civil unrest.  This input was critical to receiving the SBA’s disaster declaration, and for triggering the availability of targeted, low-interest loans that will now be made available to small businesses and non-profits impacted by property damage and looting.
“The SBA is strongly committed to providing the people of Illinois with the most effective and customer-focused response possible to assist businesses of all sizes, homeowners and renters with federal disaster loans,” said U.S. Small Business Administration, Administrator Jovita Carranza. “Getting businesses and communities up and running after a disaster is our highest priority at SBA.”
Businesses who experienced physical damage or economic injury in counties that are not noted here are encouraged to fill out this form to assist with obtaining a county declaration through SBA which would allow these loans to be available in their county. To be eligible for an SBA declaration, at least 25 homes and/or businesses in a county must sustain major, uninsured losses of 40-percent or more.  SBA loans can help repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate.  Homeowners and renters can apply for loans to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.  Businesses and private non-profit organizations can apply for loans to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory and other business assets.
Applications for loans are available now and can be found on SBA’s website. Businesses and non-profits can borrow up to $2 million, homeowners can borrow up to $200k for real estate, and homeowners and renters may borrow up to $40k for personal property, I suggest you leave the dollar amount ($2 million out). Loan applications can also be downloaded from
In order to accommodate with the coronavirus health guidance, a Virtual Disaster Loan Outreach Center (VDLOC) has been established by SBA to provide additional information and loan assistance.  Applicants can also receive one-on-one assistance via phone, skype, and webinars.  Virtual customer support representatives can help applicants complete their applications and answer questions related to the application process. 
Virtual Disaster Loan Outreach Center
Phone: 571-422-6016 or 470-363-6079
Open: Monday – Friday
Hours: 8:00am – 5:00pm
Note: Closed Friday, July 3 in observance of Independence Day
The filing deadline to return applications for physical property damage is August 24, 2020.  The deadline to return economic injury applications is March 23, 2021.  Any individual or business needing additional information, or wishing to apply for a loan, should contact the SBA Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955. 
Completed applications should be mailed to: U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.
Illinois small businesses are encouraged to reach out to business advisors at one of the 41 Illinois Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) located across the state for any additional questions regarding grants, loans and other available resources. Nearest SBDCs can be located here.
The SBA loans build on a series of business and community assistance programs recently made available by the Pritzker help businesses that have been impacted or closed as a result of COVID-19.  Earlier this week Governor Pritzker launched applications to make $85 million available through two new grant programs for businesses hit hardest by COVID-19. The new Business Interruption Grants Program (BIG) will make $60 million available for up to 3,500 businesses experiencing losses and/or unable to fully reopen until Phase 4 or 5. Second, the Distressed Capital Program brings forward $25 million in Rebuild Illinois capital funds to help those businesses sustaining damages as a result of events related to civil unrest begin to restore and repair. Both programs will give priority to minority-owned businesses, or businesses located in DIAs.
DCEO will conduct a series of webinars and outreach to businesses in the coming weeks. For a list of upcoming webinars and to receive regular updates on grants and business assistance programs, please visit DCEO's website or follow on social at @IllinoisDCEO.

Monday, June 22, 2020

5 Things You Do That Turn Your Customers Off

One of the things marketing consultants and business coaches will tell you is to be yourself on social media and in your blogging. Let your tone come through and allow people to get to know you. Your personality will help you stand out. 
And it does, whether you have a good one or a bad one.
But since you don’t want to potentially alienate customers you should know there are two extremes when it comes to marketing – the job candidate approach and the like-it-or-leave-it approach. The job candidate approach is when you are you, but better. That’s when you leave your dirty laundry at home with all of your rants. The like-it-or-leave-it mentality, on the other hand, believes that your personality is essential in targeting your ideal customer and if someone doesn’t like it, they can go elsewhere. One business that has capitalized on this approach and turned it into an art form is Ed Debevic’s in Chicago
Most of us are probably in between those extremes, at least we think we are, but there are still things you may be doing that are causing you to lose customers.

1.             Serving “Fine”

Nobody craves fine. No one goes out of their way for fine. If you’re just serving up a “fine” experience you’re not giving your customers anything to remember.  

2.             Talking Only about Yourself

I spend a lot of time on social media curating content for clients and I’m here to tell you there’s  very little useful content out there. Too many businesses post things that don’t belong on social media. Things that are just about them with no helpful application to others. 
Follow the 80/20 rule – 80% of your content should be about other things or other people’s content and 20% should be your own. That 20% should entertain, educate, or inspire. Aim to help and you’ll become important to people.

3.             You’re Don’t Value Your Employees

While you may not think that your customers care how you treat your employees (and you’re probably right), what they do care about is how they are treated by those employees. It’s important to know that disgruntled and unappreciated employees can NEVER provide excellent customer service. Here’s something else to chew on, according to a 2015 employee engagement study by Randstad, 28% of employees would rather have a better boss than a $5,000 raise. New research from the London School of Business and Finance reported 47% of the 1000 people polled disliked their jobs so much they are looking to leave in under a year. Some groups estimate as high as 77% of Americans dislike their jobs and dread Mondays. What does that tell you about your ability to offer good service?

4.             You Use “Marketing Speak”

Speak in a language your audience understands. “Synergistic evaluations that leverage employee opportunities to think outside of the box” seems like “low-hanging fruit” but it will never make anyone buy from you.

5.             Endless Information Loops

Automation helps businesses spend more time on things they can’t automate like personal relationships. Auto-attendants and websites can help you provide customers with the information they need without tying up manpower,but if your customers can’t get to what they need, those efficiency tools will prove much more frustrating than useful.

A Final Word on Avoiding Customer Turn Off

Being yourself is important but so is knowing the preferences of your ideal customer. Once you know who that person is it’s a lot easier to give them what they need. But whatever it is that they need from you, know it is probably never going to be a self-promoting relationship. No customer has ever asked a business for that.

Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers, and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in the Associations North (formerly Midwest Society of Association Executives’) Magazine,, AssociationTech, and Socialfish. She is a regular blogger at and the Event Manager Blog. 
She’s a bookish writer on a quest to bring great storytelling to organizations everywhere.