The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is launching the first round of Business Interruption Grants (BIG) by providing $60 million to businesses experiencing losses or business interruption as a result of COVID-19 related closures. The BIG Program is available for up to 3,500 businesses that experienced a limited ability to operate due to COVID-19 related closures.

Funds will be distributed to qualifying businesses in early July.

In the first wave of grants, priority will be given to small businesses that have been heavily restricted or completely shut down during the pandemic. Additional priority will be given to businesses located in disproportionately impacted areas (DIAs), or low-income areas that have had high rates of COVID-19 cases. Businesses eligible for the program must have experienced extreme hardship, demonstrated by experiencing eligible costs or losses in excess of the grant amount since March. (See full eligibility criteria list here.)

Specifically, the program includes support for:

  • Bars and Restaurants - Providing 1,000 grants of up to $20,000 for bars and restaurants unable to offer outside service.

  • Barbershops and Salons - Providing 1,000 grants of $10,000 each for barbershops and salons.

  • Gyms and Fitness Centers - Providing 500 grants of $20,000 each for gyms and fitness centers that have lost significant revenue due to COVID-19.

  • Businesses located in DIAs Where There Was Recent Property Damage from Civil Unrest - Providing 1,000 grants of $20,000 each. Southwest Illinois communities include Alton, Wood River, Venice, Madison, East St. Louis, Lebanon, Caseyville, Washington Park, Cahokia, Dupo, Alotron, and Centreville. (see DIA map here)

WHEN AND WHERE TO APPLY: DCEO will begin accepting applications on June 26th, 2020. The application submission portal will be posted (here). Until the 26th, DCEO is posting the application questions and required documents for businesses and business support organizations to read, review and prepare.

For additional questions, submit an inquiry via the question submission form in English or Spanish. Submitting a question via the form ensures a timely response.

This $60 million funding round represents only the first wave of the BIG program, which in total will amount to at least $540 million in grants for small businesses, $270 million of which has been set aside for childcare providers. For the remaining BIG funding, DCEO will issue a NOFO at a later date to seek qualified partner(s) in assisting with administering future phases of the BIG program to small businesses. America's Central Port will continue to share the latest updates as the remaining funding is made available.


Updated: Jun 17, 2020

The United States has a versatile and expansive network of navigable waterways including: rivers, bays, channels, coasts, the Great Lakes, open-ocean routes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway System. In 2007, the Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration (MARAD), created the Marine Highway Program to help maintain and enhance "America's Marine Highway," as MARAD likes to call it.

America's Central Port (ACP) plays a critical role in leveraging the transportation opportunities that help attract U.S. and foreign direct investment to the Southwest Illinois and Greater St. Louis region.

In order to capture the full transportation potential of the Mississippi River, America’s Central Port has been pursuing container-on-barge (COB) for many years. With the completion of the Madison Harbor construction in 2016, the Port has been of the firm belief that COB can happen in the St. Louis area, and that the Madison Harbor is primed for container movement.

The Madison Harbor was constructed to handle bulk movement of grain from unit trains to barge as well as general cargoes, with the movement of containers kept in the forefront of the design of the facility. A dual access road system is one example of how the Port designed the facility with the trucking and container industry in mind. Two roads lead to the Madison Harbor general cargo dock: one bypasses a rail crossing, and the other has no overhead height restrictions. This unimpeded, redundant access reduces congestion and emissions, and greatly increases efficiencies of the Madison Harbor operator and truck/chassis drivers.

With the $1.26 million awarded from this Marine Highway grant, America's Central Port in conjunction with their operator SCF Lewis and Clark Terminals will be able to more efficiently ship and receive containerized goods by barge (COB), providing intermodal access to the Gulf of Mexico and cities like Chicago, New Orleans, and Memphis.

As a requirement for the Marine Highway grant, a 20.7% match of $331,200 will be shared between SCF and America's Central Port.

The specific components of the project include:

  • Purchase of a 275-ton crane to handle the loading of containers onto barges, as well as other commodities

  • Installation of up to 18 new fixed and pan/tilt/zoom cameras at the Madison Harbor to aid in the securing of containers and notification of trucks

  • Purchase of a container tilter for use in loading bulk commodities into containers. 

Plans are also in development regarding the laydown area for containers. While the Marine Highway grant will be used for handling equipment, on a separate project (independent of this grant application), SCF is improving the marshaling yard area in order to more efficiently handle containers as volumes grow.

Given time needed to purchase the new equipment and installation, container on barge transportation at America's Central Port is projected to be operational later this year in 2020.


The Class-III railroad at America's Central Port, Port Harbor Railroad Corp., unveiled and dedicated two locomotives honoring first responders and U.S. armed forces veterans.

GP40 No. 8955, a former Milwaukee Road unit, and former Canadian Pacific SD40-2 No. 5730 wear paint schemes designed by conductor/student engineer Dominic Montero. His father, St. Louis Fire Department Lieutenant Mario Montero, joined his son for the dedication.

“I’m very proud of my son, and it’s dear to my heart that he really thinks that highly of our first responders and veterans,” the elder Montero said.

Port Harbor's Dominic Montero, left, designed the paint schemes for the two locomotives. He was joined at the unveiling by his father, Mario, of the St. Louis Fire Department.
Port Harbor's Dominic Montero, left, designed the paint schemes for the two locomotives. He was joined at the unveiling by his father, Mario, of the St. Louis Fire Department.

Dominic Montero said the locomotives are “our little but still kind of our big way to say thanks to our first responders and our veterans and tell them how much we appreciate them. The cherry on top was seeing how thrilled my Dad was; he was the inspiration behind it. … I am excited that people can drive by and see the locomotives and know we are honoring them.”

The Port Harbor is a Class III railroad that interchanges with the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis and serves industries at America’s Central Port, a former Army supply base in Granite City. Several Port Harbor employees are current or former first responders or veterans.

CEO and Vice president of marketing and customer solutions Carl Yount was a Marine Corps staff sergeant who saw combat in Vietnam. “These are two beautiful locomotives,” Yount said. “We wanted to increase public awareness of our veterans’ service and sacrifices, and our first responders who serve us every day.’’

Dan Walford, a talented railroad fan and photographer, is a 24½-year Navy veteran who served as a flight officer on P3 Orion aircraft. “It’s nice to see that first responders and veterans are appreciated and these folks care enough to spend money showing that.”

The preparation and painting work were done by Quality Rail Service in Madison, Ill., about a mile away from the port. Master painter Kevin Scifres lead the repainting projects on both units, suggesting improvements. “These folks at Quality Rail most definitely live up to their name,’’ said Road Foreman of Engines Eddie Bauer.

Originally published by Steve Smedley on