ROMEOVILLE – A partnership with Lewis University could be the key to successful business startups and a diversified job market that Will County leaders have been looking for.
The Regional Alliance Business Incubator project will be a partnership between the university and the Des Plaines River Valley Enterprise Zone, which includes Romeoville, Joliet, Rockdale, Lockport and Will County.
The project seeks to encourage innovation and local entrepreneurs by assisting them in creating stronger and healthier businesses.
The enterprise zone board unanimously approved the first phase of the program, which includes a feasibility study. If the study yields favorable results, the alliance incubator will be housed at Lewis University’s Fitzpatrick House and be funded by the enterprise zone along with in-kind donations by the university.
“We talk a lot about recruiting business, but we need to be more aggressive in creating the opportunities of tomorrow,” Romeoville Mayor John Noak said.
The incubator will use a mix of educational workshops and the university’s existing intellectual, technological and material resources in hopes of creating a state-of-the-art business program. STEM-related, product-based and information technology companies are at the heart of the initiative, according to a village of Romeoville news release.
Noak said Lewis University has a well-known business faculty and all the resources to foster the growth of new businesses.
There continues to be economic growth in the county, but not necessarily a diverse mix of jobs, particularly higher-paying jobs.
“We need to diversify the job market, and this creates an opportunity to do that,” Noak said.
Once established, five first-year tenants will receive mentoring and strategic coaching, networking opportunities, assistance with loan applications and venture capital presentations, potential small seed grants, business training offerings and faculty expert support during the startup process.
In exchange for these services, tenants will pay rent and have an expectation of locating their businesses within the enterprise zone boundaries. The program hopes to graduate these tenants after a two-year stay while accepting five new tenants each year.
“If we could have them grow into companies with 100-plus employees and multimillion-dollar operations, we’d be way ahead of the game,” Noak said.
Lewis University President David Livingston stated in the news release that the university appreciates the enterprise zone’s assistance on the initiative, and that it shows potential for a positive economic effect on the region.
“We look forward to working with innovative entrepreneurs through the Alliance Incubator, coordinated by our Lewis University Lowell Stahl Center for Entrepreneurship and Real Estate,” he stated.