Earlier this year, my good friend and colleague Ross Miller, director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Bradley University, sent me an email. He wanted to connect the Morton Economic Development Council with AutonomouStuff, a growing small business that had recently located in Morton.
Ross knew the Morton EDC is committed to supporting small business development in our community. In fact, that is a key part of our economic development strategy.
Why? According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses (firms with 500 employees or less) represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms. Since 1995, small businesses have generated 64 percent of new jobs and paid 44 percent of the total U.S. private payroll, according to the SBA. While the big guys get most of the attention when it comes to local discussions about our economy, the small guys are doing much of the heavy lifting.
Out team was eager to meet and assist Bobby Hambrick, who started AutonomouStuff in 2010 as a dealer for highly technical components that make a vehicle move from one point to another without the need for human interactions. Their goal is to be the world’s leader in supplying components commonly used within autonomy systems by making it easy to source LIDAR, RADAR, GPS/IMU and computing technologies. These systems are used in a variety of industries—including agriculture, mining, transportation and the armed forces—to improve efficiency and save lives.
Like many new small businesses, AutonomouStuff began with Bobby in a tiny office on his own. In three short years, the company has grown to nine employees serving 625 clients worldwide. Their industry is expected to grow tenfold by 2016, and Bobby believes there is true potential for AutonomouStuff to grow to 100 employees within the next five years. What an economy booster that would be for Morton and the entire region!
After a short time in a small space on Erie Avenue in Morton, Bobby realized they needed more square footage to support their business growth. He wanted to acquire a neighboring space for expansion and was searching for supportive funding. The Morton EDC was able to help AutonomouStuff with a Morton MicroGrant, a special fund created by the EDC to encourage small business development and job creation in Morton. The grant is made possible through a directed contribution by Morton Community Bank.
We know the grant funds are modest, providing limited help to a fast-growing business like AutonomouStuff, but for Bobby and many small businesses, every penny helps. More importantly, he knows that we care about his business and want to see it stay and grow in Morton.
I asked Bobby what makes someone take the risk to start a small business. For him, it was the autonomy… no pun intended! “I realize that every man is the architect of his own future, and I am not very good at following the rules of corporate America,” he said. “I am very passionate about designing an environment for myself, my family and the people around me that is fun, challenging, innovative and rewarding. The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.” iBi