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Google grant announcement

Several Cross County Innovation Center committee members were in attendance Friday morning at the Google corporate campus in Chicago when the company announced that this project had won a $250,000 grant. Shown, from left to right, are Amanda Lessley, president/CEO of the Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation; volunteer Jonathan Kaye; volunteer Rick Hall; Mattoon Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ed Dowd; Peace Corps Fellow intern Carlos Ortega; Blake Pierce, director of real estate for Rural King; Clair Kaye; and Jeanne Dau, sponsor of ClassE.

MATTOON -- Google announced Friday morning that it will award an additional $250,000 Google grant to renovate office space at the Mattoon mall for a planned Cross County Innovation Center that will provide startup space for entrepreneurs.

On Feb. 7, the Innovation Center committee announced that the project had received a $75,000 grant from the Google.org Impact Challenge program and was among 10 nonprofit projects in Illinois in the running for the $250,000 grant. The winner of the larger grant was based on which project received the most votes online.

Several members of the Innovation Center committee were in attendance at the Google corporate campus in Chicago when the announcement was made about the Google.org Impact Challenge program grant.

Committee member Ed Dowd, who is executive director of the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce, said he was pleasantly surprised to hear that Mattoon's volunteer-based project had received the most votes of the more than 50,000 cast in this competition, which includes several large projects with paid staff in the Chicago area.

"We were up against several major organizations," Dowd said. He added that, "We are small but we are mighty."

Innovation Center organizers held a Feb. 7 event at the Cross County Mall in Mattoon to announce that a statewide grant competition selected 10 Illinois nonprofits, including the Cross County project, with ideas to create economic opportunities in their communities.

The Mattoon in Motion community planning effort is behind the project. The center is one of Mattoon in Motion's economic development goals.

The Mattoon-based Rural King company, which owns the Cross County Mall, is donating space for the Innovation Center. Rural King has reported that the center will be located in approximately 6,000 square feet of office space on the north side of the Cross County Mall, just west of the entrance to the former Carson's store.

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The center will serve as a mixed-use, co-working space for small businesses, startups, and nonprofit organizations. Members of the Innovation Center will receive a variety of business support services. The space will also be the new home for the ClassE program that helps Coles County high school students learn how to become entrepreneurs.

Blake Pierce, director of real estate for Rural King, said Friday afternoon that the company will now finalize the design for the Innovation Center so that renovation work can begin there. He said the additional $250,000 in Google grant funding will enable the project to proceed quickly.

"Our goal is to have it open by August. That way when the ClassE program resumes in the fall, they will be able to utilize it," Pierce said.

Organizers have reported that the initial $75,000 grant will fund the first of three phases for the development of the Innovation Center.

The first phase will focus on retrofitting the space and updating the electrical, plumbing and communication lines. The second phase of the project will provide completed work spaces with finished interior design and is projected to cost approximately $250,000-$300,000. The third phase will include more community partnership for support services and operations.

Pierce said the Innovation Center committee wants to thank the many community members who cast their votes online for this project to be the recipient of the $250,000 grant.

"We are very appreciative of everyone who took the time to do that," Pierce said.

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Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @TheRobStroud

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Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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