GARY — Local leaders hope to create a program that will “enhance, promote, 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, tasked the Gary Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League of NWI, Inc. and the Miller Business Association with creating a program that would aid entrepreneurs throughout the city.
“The collaboration is a wonderful thing because we touch the entire community,” Hughes said during an Oct. 13 Ways and Means Committee meeting.
The organizations created a proposal for a four-year program focused on promoting tourism, educating current and aspiring entrepreneurs, providing direct grants to small businesses and nonprofits and generally supporting and strengthening local organizations.
The groups are requesting $2.5 million of the $80.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding the city received. Vanessa Allen-McCloud, president and CEO of the Urban League, said the money would be split three ways, with each organization leading a different element of the initiative. The MBA would be focused on promoting tourism: adding water safety signage around the city’s beaches, installing bike racks and trash cans along Lake Street and possibly identifying a building that could be turned into a tourism and cultural center with a small museum. The Urban League would take the lead on educating entrepreneurs: hosting business boot camps multiple times a year, ensuring aspiring business owners get necessary certifications and helping them write business plans. The Chamber of Commerce would give businesses advice and would host a competition that awards funds to the participants with the best business plans.
All small businesses and nonprofits in the city would be eligible for the direct grants, Godwin explained, not just those who are members of the Chamber of Commerce or the MBA.
Though the requested $2.5 million would support the program for four years, Godwin said the plan is 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 to benefit the masses, how are you going to connect to those business entities that are not associated with Miller, that are not in the Miller Business Association, that are not a member of the Chamber, that do not get resources from the Urban League?” Adkins asked.
Adkins also asked the three groups to think about ways of drawing tourism to the city’s downtown, not just to the lakefront.
Godwin said representatives from the three groups should meet monthly. Some of the $2.5 million would go toward paying a Certified Public Accountant to ensure the money is used properly, McCloud said.
“There are members of this community who have the acumen, have the ability and have the desire to be business people,” Hughes said. “(This program) will show potential business people that you can operate a business in Gary and you won’t be alone.”
The ordinance will go before the Ways and Means Committee again at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 5.
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