Champion Community Investments is the business name for Southern Illinois Coal Belt Champion Community, Inc., an Illinois-registered not-for-profit corporation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. CCI was founded in early 2002 as a partnering organization with the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development team in the region. The mission of CCI was to provide community and economic development support in parts of Perry, Franklin, and Williamson Counties.
CCI was actually founded as a result of failure. Local and county leaders in those three counties worked with state and federal officials to prepare and submit a regional application to become an Empowerment Zone in 2001. For better or worse, the very competitive application was not selected but the principles behind CCI found that they liked and trusted each other and that perhaps working collaboratively might be mutually productive and beneficial. In fact, that relationship has prospered and expanded to include Jackson and Jefferson Counties to CCI’s regional footprint.
Since its founding, the CCI Board of Directors has met monthly, adding constructive support to numerous local projects and initiatives. Those include support and advocacy for countless infrastructure and public safety grant proposals, sponsorship of housing and economic development conferences, enabling a three-county assessment of broadband that would grow to a 20-county endeavor, and helping to finance worthwhile community projects (See the Community Initiatives section of the website for examples).
In 2006, USDA awarded CCI a $94,500 Rural Business Enterprise Grant to fund the establishment of a small local revolving loan fund. Concentrating primarily on lending to very small, emerging businesses, the grant fund was quickly deployed and depleted. CCI then borrowed an additional $300,000 from USDA’s Intermediary Relending Program, or IRP. At this writing (September 2017), CCI has borrowed $3.3 million in IRP funds and hold $200,000 in USDA grant capital.
2010 was a critical year for CCI. USDA ended its Champion Community program. The conclusion of the program allowed CCI to rebrand, redefine, and expand to the current core five-county footprint. Also in 2010, CCI was awarded a $500,000 loan from USDA under its Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, or RMAP. CCI would quickly become a national leader in RMAP lending, being among the first in the nation to fully deploy this fund over an expanded 12-county region of Southern Illinois. Of the original $500,000, over 20 loans were closed for an aggregate principal amount of $829,000 by using recaptured funds. USDA has since added an additional $500,000 in RMAP loan funding. In addition to serving its core five countries, CCI also makes RMAP funds available in the southern Illinois counties of Randolph, Hamilton, White, Gallatin, Saline, Pope, and Hardin.
In September 2013 CCI learned that it had been designated by the United States Department of the Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution, or CDFI. At this writing, CCI is the only Illinois CDFI south of Springfield. With that designation, CCI was also awarded a $600,000 Small and Emerging CDFI Assistance (SECA) grant to further capitalize its lending mission. Among the criteria for becoming a CDFI, CCI must be locally responsive to its community, having a clear mission of community lending, and be a non-governmental entity.
At present, CCI has closed 110 loans to 80 businesses over its ten-year lending history, with an aggregate principal amount of nearly $7.5 million. With commercial bank loans and owner equity injection, CCI has over participated in over $20 million in total project funding. Through its financial support, business owners report the creation of over 200 jobs and the retention of nearly 350 more jobs.
That’s not all! As a community development organization and under our charter as a 501c3 corporation committed to charitable service to our community, CCI has a history of helping worthwhile regional endeavors. With direction from the CCI Board of Directors, we have helped build a playground in Colp. A downtown façade improvement program in Du Quoin resulted in facelifts for 23 storefronts and the deployment of $120,000 in grant funds and another $150,000 in private funds to finance the project. Also in Du Quoin, over 70 children of low- to moderate-income families learned to swim at the Du Quoin Municipal Pool. With essential support from the Federal Reserve Bank system, over 20 young people in Jefferson County received important assistance in money management and positive credit development instruction.
There is more history in the making as Champion Community Investments projects a doubling of its total assets over the next five years through 2022 with an eye toward full self-sustainability as a strong regional asset in the community and economic development. With the achievement of assured self-sustainability will come more business lending, more assistance to local community projects, and more overall regional growth. With a bright, busy future ahead, the Board of Directors of CCI looks forward to more milestones that will build a stronger future for Southern Illinois.