GARY – Local leaders hope to create a program that will “enhance, nurture, attract and support businesses in the City of Gary,” said Chuck Hughes, President and CEO of the Gary Chamber of Commerce.
About eight months ago, Gary Common Council President William Godwin, D-1st commissioned the Gary Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League of NWI, Inc. and the Miller Business Association to create a program that would empower entrepreneurs across the city would help.
“It’s a wonderful thing to work together because we touch the entire community,” Hughes said during an Oct. 13 meeting of the Ways and Means Committee.
The organizations created a proposal for a four-year program focused on promoting tourism, training current and aspiring entrepreneurs, providing direct grants to small businesses and non-profit organizations, and generally supporting and empowering local organizations.
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The groups are requesting $2.5 million of the $80.3 million American Rescue Plan Act received by the city. Urban League President and CEO Vanessa Allen-McCloud said the money would be split three ways, with each organization leading a different element of the initiative. The MBA would focus on promoting tourism: putting up water safety signs on city beaches, installing bike racks and trash cans along Lake Street, and possibly identifying a building to be converted into a tourism and cultural center with a small museum could become. The Urban League would take the lead in educating entrepreneurs: hosting business boot camps several times a year, making sure aspiring business owners get the certifications they need, and helping them write business plans. The Chamber of Commerce would advise companies and host a competition that would award funds to the contestants with the best business plans.
All small businesses and nonprofit organizations in the city would be eligible for the direct grants, Godwin explained, not just those who are Chamber of Commerce or MBA members.
Although the requested $2.5 million would support the program for four years, Godwin said there are plans to continue the initiative beyond 2026.
Ways and Means Committee chair Tai Adkins, D-4th, said she wanted to see assurances that the program would impact the entire city, not just the Miller neighborhood.
“If this is a program that benefits the masses, how do you plan to connect to the business entities that are not affiliated with Miller, that are not in the Miller Business Association, that are not a member of the Chamber, that are not coming ? Resources from the Urban League?” Adkins asked.
Adkins also challenged the three groups to think about how to attract tourism to the city’s downtown area, not just to the lakefront.
Godwin said representatives from the three groups should meet monthly. A portion of the $2.5 million would be used to pay an auditor to ensure the money is used properly, McCloud said.
“There are members of this community who have the acumen, ability and desire to be business people,” Hughes said. do not stay alone.”
The ordinance will be presented again to the Ways and Means Committee on December 5 at 5:30 p.m.
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