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Ready to compete: Small business contest begins next month in Macomb

Announcer Jake Huntley called out the questions during a recent trivia night at Forogttonia Brewing, which won Macomb’s inaugural small business competition.
Rich Egger
Announcer Jake Huntley called out the questions during a recent trivia night at Forgottonia Brewing, which won Macomb’s inaugural small business competition.

The City of Macomb is partnering with the Illinois Small Business Development Center to host its second small business competition.

“People are always talking about different things that they think would be beneficial, that would do really well in Macomb. It’s really exciting to hear those ideas and having an opportunity now to make those dreams into reality,” said Savannah Ballard, Macomb’s Marketing and Downtown Development Director.

The city’s first such contest -- called the Downtown Business Retail Competition -- was in 2018.

This year’s contest is called the Small Business Competition, and will be different in other ways, too. For example, Ballard said the previous contest focused on the downtown area, while this time around entrepreneurs can open their businesses anywhere in the community.

“Every business is going to have individualized needs, so being able to expand the parameters past the downtown will really give an opportunity for the business owner to be able to have a space that truly fits their needs,” she said.

Ballard also said the city will award three prize packages this year, not just one:

  • First place - $15,000
  • Second place - $6,000
  • Third place - $3,000

The money comes from funding the city received through the American Rescue Plan Act.
Also this year, more types of businesses are eligible to participate, including retail, service, and industrial companies. Plus, existing businesses that are looking to expand are eligible.

More information is available by contacting Ballard at Macomb City Hall: 309-371-3325 or

The schedule         

The competition will begin with an informational meeting on Feb. 6 at 6:00 p.m. at the Spoon River College Community Outreach Center, 2500 E. Jackson St.

A series of entrepreneur workshops will be held during the following weeks, also at the outreach center.

The contest will conclude on March 21, when entrepreneurs who’ve gone through the classes will make their pitches to a panel of judges.

The event at Park Place, 127 E. Carroll St. in downtown Macomb, will be open to the public.

“We’re hoping to have lots of people from the community there,” Ballard said. “It’s going to be a really fun, exciting environment for everyone to enjoy.”

Increasing the velocity

Forgottonia Brewing won the inaugural competition in July 2018. The business opened in June 2019 and still serves crafted beers and hosts special events such as trivia nights, record nights, live music performances, and food trucks.

“I think we’re doing really well. I like to joke that it’s the hobby that pays for itself,” said co-owner and brew master Sean West, who home-brewed for many years before helping open the business.

“It (running a small business) definitely gives you a newfound respect for all of the businesses in Macomb. It’s a challenging market with population and those sorts of things.”

He said Macomb’s inaugural business competition helped because it put him in touch with a lot of other people who were also looking to open businesses.

“We were able to share ideas and share information with each other,” West said. “It also gave us a lot of publicity. The ball was rolling but it increased the velocity.”

He said guest speakers from businesses shared their expertise during the 2018 classes, and he learned about little things that an entrepreneur might not think about before opening. West hopes to pay it forward this year – he will lead one of the upcoming classes.

West said he and his partners knew going in that the business would require a lot of work and a lot of money.

Then, like everyone else, they had to learn to pivot during the global pandemic that began in early 2020.

“We are a taproom-focused brewery. We are not really a distributor, so that definitely changed things very quickly,” he said.

Forgottonia already had a canner, so they were able to sell cans to-go and they made deliveries for a while. West said they were lucky because the business already had an outdoor space and the city allowed them to expand it during that time period.

Two other businesses that participated in the first year also remain open: The Crafty Coop and Lakeside Medical and Psychiatric Healthcare.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.