The news does not stop on a nice and sunny day. Locally, a major announcement on a much-awaited project has been made, the Paycheck Protection Program is slated to end soon without action to extend the deadline, Governor Pritzker signs the Education and Workforce Equity Act, the eviction moratorium receives another extension, and we have the latest stats on vaccines, positivity rate, and hospitalizations.
We have a busy end of the month as far as our calendar goes. Our State of the City Address with Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk is back on the calendar for Monday, March 22 at 11 AM. Make sure to sign up here.
Please add the Women’s Empowerment Forum on Wednesday, March 24th. In honor of National Women’s History month the chamber has partnered with Lewis University and invites you to join an interactive, virtual, open forum with women educators and leaders from our community. Join us at 2:30 PM by registering here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-webinar-march-24th-women-s-empowerment-forum-6018
Also, you can now register to join us for a Joliet City Council Candidate forum to take place on Thursday, March 25th. We’ll have an in-person event that will be taped and released immediately as well as a published questionnaire before the 3/25 event. This event will run from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM. You can register here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-member-lunch-march-25-joliet-city-council-at-large-candidates-6027
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Houbolt Road Bridge Construction to Begin
In the next couple of weeks it is anticipated that the construction of the Houbolt Road bridge will begin. “We’re a full go as of today,” Michael Murphy, chief development officer for CenterPoint Properties said Tuesday.
Murphy said a construction trailer should be on the site “in the next couple of days. … It will take a week or so to go to work.” CenterPoint Properties is a partner in the private joint venture that will build the toll bridge over the Des Plaines River. “We anticipate completion in the spring of 2023,” Murphy said.
The entire project — including the bridge, widening of Houbolt Road, and a new interchange at Interstate 80 — has been estimated to cost in the range of $200 million. It’s a public-private venture in which Houbolt Road Extension Joint Venture will build and be responsible for the bridge, which will be owned by the city of Joliet. The state will widen Houbolt Road and build a divergent diamond interchange at I-80.
The bridge is envisioned as a key element in resolving semitrailer congestion issues on local roads and highways by providing a direct connection between the CenterPoint Intermodal Center industrial parks south of the Des Plaines River to I-80 north of the river.
Legal complications involving the BNSF Railway, which has a railroad that lies underneath the future bridge, and a change in plans that led to the city of Joliet becoming the owner of the bridge, stretched out the expected construction start date for years. But Murphy said last year that construction could start by March after a lease agreement between the city and the joint venture was reached.
The U.S. Coast Guard last week issued a permit needed to cross the Des Plaines River. On Monday, the city of Joliet closed on a land transfer with Houbolt Road Extension Joint Venture that was needed to wrap up the lease agreement between the two parties. Will County will set the tolls for the bridge and also was involved with intergovernmental agreements needed to get the project going.
Gov. Pritzker Signs Education and Workforce Equity Act
Building on efforts to improve education and career outcomes, Governor Pritzker signed legislation that expands access, equity, and opportunity in Illinois’ education system. This legislation strengthens the state’s priorities in delivering high-quality learning from cradle to career by supporting public schools, making college education more affordable, investing in vocational training, and expanding the teacher workforce –all with a heightened equity focus on communities that have been disproportionally impacted by longstanding disinvestment.
“This legislation accomplishes so much to expand access – from early childhood services to AP courses; To achieve equity – by addressing learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic; And to broaden opportunity – by evaluating and streamlining our workforce programs so more students might choose a career in education,” said Governor Pritzker. “Improving education, and especially early childhood education, was an important focus of mine for more than 20 years prior to holding this office, and it’s my great honor to carry forward that mission as governor. I was proud to collaborate with the Black Caucus to help build a bill that truly does more for the students of Illinois, with a mission to make progress toward eliminating racial inequities and structural barriers that hold our learners back. Much has been accomplished here, but there’s more work to be done.”
“House Bill 2170 is a step toward ridding Illinois of the damaging policies and procedures built into our state’s systems of law and government that have created deep inequities and opportunity gaps in education for Black students,” said Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford. “It’s time for our children to accelerate their education throughout the duration of their careers, from early learning to prestigious universities, followed by successful careers. I’m humbled to have led this effort and look forward to continuing to fight to ensure fairness and equality in Illinois for all our state’s residents.”
House Bill 2170 uses equity and fairness as guiding principles to improve outcomes across early childhood education, primary and secondary education, higher education, and workforce development.
Early Childhood Education
• Expands access to the Early Intervention program by allowing children who turn 3 years old between May and August to continue receiving services until the beginning of the next school year.
• Requires the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to annually assess all public-school students entering kindergarten to measure their readiness.
• Requires that behavioral health providers use diagnostic codes and descriptions that are developmentally and age appropriate for children under the age of 5.
Primary and Secondary Education
• Adds new graduation requirements that will better prepare students in computer literacy, laboratory science and foreign languages.
• Increases access to accelerated placement programs for students meeting or exceeding state standards in English language arts, math, or science.
• Expands the required Black history coursework to include pre-enslavement of Black people, why Black people came to be enslaved, and the American Civil Rights renaissance.
• Requires the Illinois P-20 Council to make recommendations for the short-term and long-term learning recovery actions for public school students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Establishes a 22-person Inclusive American History Commission.
• Requires the Professional Review Panel to study various issues to strengthen the equity components in the state’s evidence-based school funding formula.
• Creates the Whole Child Task Force to focus on expanding trauma-responsive school services.
• Establishes a freedom school network to supplement learning in public schools.
• Establishes the Developmental Education Reform Act, which requires community colleges to use certain measures to determine the placement of students in introductory college-level courses.
• Increases the percentage of grant funds prioritized for Black males and incorporates consideration of financial need in awarding grants.
• Establishes priority in grant funding for students wanting to become bilingual teachers.
• Expands the Illinois Teaching Excellence Program to cover programs working with diverse candidates.
• Reduces the AIM High Program matching funds requirement for public universities based on the percentage of low-income students enrolled at the public institution.
• Requires that ISBE compile a review that identifies the courses that each public university requires or recommends that high school students take in order to be admitted as an undergraduate.
• Requires the Illinois Workforce Investment Board conduct a feasibility study of all workforce development programs funded by the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
HB 2170 is effective immediately.
COVID-19 Update: Positivity, Vaccines, and Hospitalization
The state’s rolling seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate held steady near two percent as officials continue to increase vaccination efforts in all parts of the state. The positivity rate stood at 2.3 percent, a number that has not moved more than two-tenths of a percentage point for the past 10 days.
Hospitalizations also continued on a steady decline near pandemic lows, with 1,178 people reported hospitalized with COVID-19 at the end of Sunday, including 266 in intensive care unit beds and 118 on ventilators.
As of Monday, the state had administered over 3.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in total. Friday saw a single-day record for vaccines administered with over 134,000 administered statewide, while a total of 98,550 doses were administered Saturday and 29,564 on Sunday. The state has a seven-day rolling average of 90,135 doses administered per day, an increase of 10,000 additional doses from one week ago when that figure stood at 80,416.
As of Monday, just over nine percent, or 1.1 million, of the state’s 12.7 million residents have been fully vaccinated. In a news conference late last week, Governor Pritzker acknowledged that some residents who are currently eligible to receive a vaccine may still find it difficult to schedule an appointment as the federal government continues to increase production and delivery of vaccine doses. “The increasing supply of vaccine is frankly very exciting, but there is still a shortage across the nation,” Pritzker said on Friday. “That means getting an appointment is still a frustrating experience.”
Pritzker expressed optimism, however, that vaccination numbers will continue to improve as the state expects to receive upward of 100,000 doses per day from the federal government by mid-March.
While the state continues to build and expand vaccination capacity in advance of increased supply, the Will County Health Department is looking to get answers on why their supply has not been expanded to keep up with demand.
Over 850 vaccination sites are currently open across all regions of the state. Eligible residents can search for vaccination appointments and vaccination sites closest to them at coronavirus.illinois.gov.
Illinois Eviction Moratorium Extended Through April 3rd
Illinois’ moratorium on evictions has been extended through April 3 according to an executive order signed by Gov. JB Pritzker on March 5. Under the extension, Illinois will have been under rules that prohibit landlords from evicting tenants for over a year. Pritzker first issued an eviction moratorium in response to a growing number of COVID-19 cases on March 20, 2020. He has extended it each month since then.
Residents, lessees, and tenants cannot be removed “unless that person poses a direct threat to the health and safety of other tenants or an immediate and severe risk to property,” according to the executive order. At a press conference Friday, Pritzker said he was keeping an eye on potential aid for renters and owners in a new COVID-19 relief package from Congress for possible adjustments to the moratorium.
The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity also has announced $100 million in funding was still available through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program for residents who need help paying utility bills, which can be higher after winter months. Those needing help with utility bills can visit www.helpillinoisfamilies.com or call (833) 711-0374
Despite Dire Small-Business Need, $128 Billion in PPP is Due to Sunset March 31
With about $128 billion currently up for grabs, the Paycheck Protection Program will sunset at the end of this month–and, as yet, there are no plans to revive it. Neither the House nor Senate versions of the latest $1.9 trillion stimulus package–dubbed the American Rescue Plan Act, which is expected to reach the President’s desk by March 14–include an extension of the PPP. Though, lawmakers do earmark another $7.25 billion additional funding for the program, which kicked off again in mid-January with $284.5 billion. Lawmakers also intend to open it up to larger non-profits.
The forgivable loan program, which has helped more than 7.3 million businesses access more than $679 billion in aid, is largely expected to end with money left over. However, business groups and owners themselves say more time is needed to help those that have, thus far, been unable to gain access to the offering.
Pointing to troubling survey data from August–showing still high levels of concern among U.S. businesses–a coalition of business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that includes the Joliet Chamber sent a letter to lawmakers this week, urging them to extend the PPP through December 31, 2021. “Small businesses continue to struggle, especially minority-owned businesses,” the business leaders wrote. “Extending the PPP deadline through the end of this year will ensure that the segment of small businesses facing the greatest obstacles do not get left behind.”
In other words, it’s still necessary. While the first round of PPP, which amounted to $349 billion, was exhausted in about two weeks, as banks routinely favored their existing and bigger ticket clients, this latest round has been marked by delays.
If second-draw PPP borrowers weren’t mistakenly rejected outright for one reason or another, widespread delays affected legions of other borrowers. As many as one third of second-draw applicants received requests for more information, after the Small Business Administration’s automated PPP system increasingly returned error codes arising from everything from mismatched data between one round to the next to straight up wrong information–like applicants who were told, incorrectly, that they had criminal records. According to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), as many as 40 different potential error codes are causing additional validation checks, which can delay loan approvals for weeks. Lenders were eventually given tools to resolve these issues, however delays continue to be a source of consternation among business owners.
Biden’s own request on February 22 that the SBA rework its lending formula for soloprenuers–allowing them to apply for loans with their gross income versus their net income, which removes taxes and other expenses–also contributed delays. The guidance on how to process loans under the new formula, along with updated applications, weren’t available to stakeholders until late in the day on March 3.
“Many PPP lenders have said that they need at least one week to update their systems for this guidance before they accept new applications,” said Barry Melancon, AICPA’s President and CEO, in a statement Friday. “That gives small businesses less than two weeks to submit a complete and accurate application.” He further urged lawmakers to extend the PPP by at least 60 days–if not through this pending stimulus bill then through a standalone measure. “The March 31 deadline simply does not make sense.”
Even the Biden administration’s 14-day exclusive application window–meant to help lenders focus their efforts just on companies with fewer than 20 employees–is pushing applications out. Eligible businesses with more than 20 employees cannot apply until the program opens back up on March 10.
What’s more, there’s still strong interest from borrowers–in spite of the slow pace of loan approvals, says Mike Trabold, Paychex director of compliance risk, who notes that the program is reaching smaller and smaller borrowers and that’s why the pace seems slow. “Because small businesses are [getting] undivided attention from the entire lending community,” he says, “the presumption is it will help people get through the bureaucracy at lenders. And a lot of the getting hung up in the process with banks–hopefully–will go away.”
Of course, the PPP had to end at some point. And indeed, some financial experts suggest that lawmakers would do well to focus their attention on different forms of aid that may be better suited to help growing companies–particularly as the economy shows continued signs of improvement.
“My position might not be popular,” said Ami Kassar, the founder and CEO of MultiFunding, a small-business loan adviser in Ambler, Pennsylvania, in a recent statement: “It’s time to put the PPP to bed.” Good funding options still exist, he said, in the SBA’s longstanding business aid offerings like the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the 7(a) working capital loan programs, which have been beefed up during the pandemic.
“We must create incentives for entrepreneurs to start and or grow companies,” said Kassar. “We must be sure there are incentives to grow payrolls, and make sure that businesses have access to capital to grow, hire, and expand.”
Whether lawmakers think those efforts and an extension of the PPP is mutually exclusive is still a matter of debate. One thing’s certain, if the program ends on March 31, plenty of businesses will be left out.
Program Notices & Reminders
Paycheck Protection Program Office Hours This Week Hosted by the SBA Illinois District Office
The SBA Illinois District Office is here to help you navigate the Paycheck Protection Program! Join them this week for office hours and get your questions about PPP answered. They will be hosting office hours daily until PPP closes on March 31. Sign up for office hours this week below!
Office hours this week
- Wednesday, March 10, 11:00a.m., Click here to sign up.
- Thursday, March 11, 1:30p.m., Click here to sign up.
- Friday, March 12, 10:00a.m., Click here to sign up.
Browse other events hosted by the SBA Illinois District Office here.
A Chance to Win $50,000 for Your Small Business – FedEx Grant Contest
The 2021 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is now open. Entries close March 9, 2021. Before you enter, have your FedEx account number handy. Or create an account if you don’t have one. Now you have a chance to win $50,000 to help you continue growing your business. Enter the 9th annual FedEx Small Business Grant Contest today.
Enter here: https://smallbusinessgrant.fedex.com/enter-now
More info: https://www.fedex.com/en-us/small-business/grant-contest.html?CMP=SOC-1006521-1-16-1003-1111000-US-US-EN-FXALISBGCKIT200&LINK=LEARNGCLI315120
Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity Updates and Offerings
EDGE Tax Credit 101 Webinar
Event Date and Time: Wednesday, March 11, 2021 at 10:00 am
About this Event:
Join the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Regional Economic Development for a webinar to learn the basics of the Economic Development for a Growing Economy (EDGE) Tax Credit Program.
Advantage Illinois Loan Program for Small Businesses
Event Date and Time: Wednesday, March 16, 2021 at 10:00 am
About this Event:
Please join the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Regional Economic Development for a webinar to learn more about Advantage Illinois. Advantage Illinois provides Illinois businesses and entrepreneurs with access to the capital to start new companies and expand existing business.
DCEO Veterans Series Presents Illinois Joining Forces
Event Date and time: Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 10:00 am
About this Event:
Join DCEO’s Office of Regional Economic Development and the Office of Minority Economic Empowerment who will host a webinar with Illinois Joining Forces Executive Director Brig. General (Ret.) Steve Curda, Ph.D. and Jim Dolan, Sr. Director of Development with Illinois Joining Forces. Illinois Joining Forces serves as a statewide public-private partnership that promotes the efficient delivery of Growth and Wellness initiatives for Service Members, Veterans, and their Families at the community level throughout the State of Illinois.
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=e517ad4416d49bac22381e4c3629b01e1
DCEO Angel Investment Tax Credit and Other Assistance Programs
Event Date and Time: Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 2:00 pm
About this Event:
The Illinois Angel Investment Tax Credit Program encourages investment in innovative, early-stage companies to help obtain the working capital needed to further the growth of their company in Illinois. Investors in companies that are certified as Qualified New Business Ventures (QNBVs) can receive a state tax credit equal to 25% of their investment (up to $2 million).
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=ef818d7e51b16aacb5cc1cedb429010c7
Illinois Department of Transportation
The Illinois Department of Transportation is hosting free virtual workshops in February as part of its Building Blocks of Success series for firms interested in participating in the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program strengthening their skills and bidding on state projects. The workshops are open to all, but some are tailored to specific districts/regions of the state.
The workshop dates and topics are:
• March 11: Construction Materials Requirements, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 16: Landscape Material and Other Requirements, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 18: Prime Contractors’ Perspective, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 23: Getting Paid, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 25: Required Documents, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 29: Quick Books Part 1, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 30: Quick Books Part 2, 10 a.m. to noon
• March 31: Quick Books Part 3, 10 a.m. to noon
Building Blocks of Success will be conducted through April. Workshop information, including dates and times, will be made available through Eventbrite at bit.ly/DBEworkshops. Advance registration is required. Questions can be directed to the DBE resource center at (312) 939-1100.
Finally, please consider taking a few minutes to fill out the 2021 Small Business Needs Assessment. The Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Illinois SBDC at Joliet Junior College asks for your assistance in our effort to best serve small business. Your input is extremely valuable and we thank you for your time in completing this survey.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry