The cities of East Moline, Moline, and Rock Island, along with their funding partners, contracted with LiveStories to develop an innovative new online platform called FORWARD. FORWARD is a web portal that helps local businesses identify funding sources for which they are eligible, apply for funding, and track progress. “There is a lot of information out there and it can be overwhelming for business owners,” said Moline Mayor Stephanie Acri. “Our cities saw a need to develop this tool in an effort to better serve our business community.” FORWARD will generate available funding sources based on the individual business profile so each business owner sees only those resources that apply to them. East Moline, Moline and Rock Island are among the first in the country to offer this innovative tool to their business communities.
Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms said, “One of many goals the cities have in common is to help lo-cal businesses survive and grow. This platform is one more tool to help.” Each city has worked to create a comprehensive list of businesses and to populate a profile based on available information. Every business will be able to log in to their own profile through their respective City website. The business will be asked to confirm/update information and then can generate a list of available support based on profile information such as industry type and number of employees. Businesses will be instructed on how to apply for the available funding. Mayor Reggie Freeman says, “The LiveStories platform simplifies the process for businesses looking for assistance due to COVID-19. This tool provides a one-stop-shop to see what resources are available and facilitates the application process. We appreciate our economic development partner REDEEM East Moline for funding the contract for the City.”
Small businesses have already been using the portal. Bob Rebitzer, Bier Stube Restaurant, said, “It seems quite easy to use with a simple interface and I like the idea to expand the details into more specific information. I would recommend this as a good resource/portal for acquiring knowledge of all the various programs and if they would apply to a business.” In Rock Island, Kevin Hird of Sports Depot Inc. was able to access a program he’d been trying for weeks to apply for: “Thank you so much for this information. I’ve been trying for weeks to apply for the EIDL on the SBA website and have been unsuccessful. I kept seeing that initial funds had been exhausted and they would post when they began accepting additional applications. The link provided via your Forward email allowed me to apply this morning. I really appreciate your assistance!”
Adnan Mahmud, CEO of LiveStories said, “FORWARD began as a response to the COVID-19 cri-sis as a way to gather the abundance of information i n o ne p lace. FORWARD enables the City to track real-time data a s t he economy recovers and continues to thrive.” Small businesses are struggling and may not know how to get help. We believe FORWARD will significantly simplify this process. The cities themselves are facing revenue losses in the millions this year and next. Economic development partners have stepped up to fund the cost of developing this tool for each city: DARI (Rock Island), Renew Moline, and REDEEM (East Moline).
“We applaud Mayor Acri and the Illinois Quad Cities for t heir forward-thinking approach i n this innovative new tool that will help businesses get the support that they need during this difficult time,” said Erin Guthrie, Director of DCEO. “At DCEO, we know that our businesses across the state are hurting from this crisis, and facing unprecedented challenges affecting their operations, their finances as well as their staff. We continue working closely with Governor Pritzker to take every measure possible to identify emergency resources and make those available to communities that need them most.”
Since COVID-19 first hit, the State of Illinois and its Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) have developed a series of programs to help businesses impacted by the pandemic. This includes providing targeted resources through Emergency Hospitality Grants, the Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program, the Small Business Emergency Fund, and the Fast Track Cap-ital grants program. These programs collectively make over $ 100 million available to help small businesses and communities across the state weather the impact of COVID-19. A list of resources available to small businesses is published and updated on DCEO’s website.
DCEO continues to identify new resources and services for businesses impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and its 38 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are on the frontlines of helping businesses apply for U.S. SBA and other resources allocated as part of the federal CARES Act for businesses with the greatest need.