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The IIRA program, "From Seed to Shelf," follows a cooperative model that allows for faster start-up, smaller local investments and community engagement. The Winchester, Illinois store, Great Scott! Community Market, is the IIRA's community-owned store prototype.
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Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Rendering
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Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Rendering
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More than $2M in Federal Dollars Earmarked for WIU

March 23, 2022

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MACOMB/MOLINE, IL – When President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act last week, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Representatives Cheri Bustos and Darin LaHood, Western Illinois University will receive approximately $2.6 million in federal funding for the creation of a new countywide Emergency Operations Center (EOC) through the WIU School of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration (LEJA), based on the WIU-Macomb campus, and for two Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) initiatives, one of which is based at the WIU-Quad Cities campus.

"We greatly appreciate the ongoing support of Senators Durbin and Duckworth and Representatives Bustos and LaHood. Their commitment to Western Illinois University has been outstanding," said WIU President Guiyou Huang. "We are excited to move forward on these new initiatives, which will provide critical services to our service region and beyond."

Western Emergency Operations Center

The $2 million in federal funding, which was initiated by Durbin and LaHood, will allow WIU to renovate the former physical sciences library in Currens Hall for a permanent emergency operations facility for the region. According to School of LEJA Director Jill Joline Myers, the Western EOC will be specifically designed to support ongoing all-hazards prevention, protection, mitigation and recovery efforts for the surrounding region, as well as an alternative EOC in downstate Illinois.

"Establishing a permanent, fully functioning EOC is essential for a comprehensive emergency management system to ensure continuity of operations, not only in the immediate area of McDonough County, but throughout the critically underserved southern, central and western Illinois regions," Myers added. "This facility will also provide cutting-edge learning and training opportunities for our LEJA students, as well as current public safety professionals and other emergency responders. The apprenticeship component of our emergency management program is unique to our higher education program alone as this component ensures that our graduates leave WIU with all the necessary skills for immediate employment through the hands-on training. The new EOC will further add to this unique aspect of our program."

The Western EOC will serve as a resource center that operates continuously to prevent and protect the region before, during and after disasters; a clearinghouse that offers best practices and conducts continuous assessment of policies and practices to improve efficiency and responses to all hazard events; an educational and training facility for public safety professionals; a location to offer emergency management apprenticeship possibilities for the next generation of first responders and emergency managers; and a center that provides socioeconomic stability to the region through primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention measures.

WIU IIRA Initiatives

The Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs will receive $400,000, which was initiated by Duckworth and Bustos, for promoting small business startups, sustainability and transitions. The SBDC located at the WIU-Quad Cities campus will utilize the influx of new federal dollars to ensure small businesses have solid succession plans and are primed to succeed. In the Quad Cities region, the WIU-QC-based SBDC has provided numerous programs and resources for start-up and minority-owned businesses in that area.

"This new program will help us maximize a business's value by coming up with plans for updates to software or facilities which makes selling a business easier when and if the time comes," noted IIRA Director Chris Merrett. "Often, those businesses we call 'anchor' businesses, like family-owned pharmacies or hardware stores, struggle with succession plans, and in underserved communities and rural communities, it may be hard to find a buyer. When a business owner leaves behind their business, it's important to have a succession plan so it can continue to thrive. A strong business sector in a rural community is essential for the ongoing economic health of that community, and this funding will allow us to provide even greater services."

In addition, the IIRA received $200,000, initiated by Durbin, to continue to expand its efforts to address "food deserts" in locations across the state. The IIRA program provides technical assistance to keep small community grocery stores open, and aid in the establishment of community supported retail grocery stores in both urban and rural areas that struggle with food insecurity.

In 2019, the IIRA was named a Google Impact Challenge recipient for the IIRA program that assists small towns in opening grocery stores so that residents gain access to fresh produce and meats. As one of the Google winners, the IIRA initially received $75,000 and training from the Google team to jumpstart its ideas. The initial seed money allowed the IIRA to continue working to assist rural Illinois towns without grocery stores to gain greater access to fresh food, as well as provide a market for locally produced goods.

The IIRA program, "From Seed to Shelf," follows a cooperative model that allows for faster start-up, smaller local investments and community engagement. The Winchester, Illinois store, Great Scott! Community Market, is the IIRA's community-owned store prototype.

The community grocery store project is overseen by Merrett, and Sean Park, IIRA faculty assistant, who oversees the IIRA's Value Added Sustainable Development Center.


For more information on WIU School of LEJA programs, visit and on IIRA programs, visit

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