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Sunday, 24 August 2014 21:20

Local economic developer helps launch portal for small business resources

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As a city consisting of 20 different neighborhood business districts, the traditional, top-down economic development model isn’t always scaleable in Grand Rapids’ unique neighborhoods.

Grand Rapids-based nonprofit Neighborhood Ventures seeks to take a hyper-local approach – working with everyone from laundromats to pizzerias – to identify the needs of small businesses in the city.

Neighborhood Ventures President and CEO Mark Lewis spoke at last week’s Michigan Economic Developers Association annual conference at Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls.

“We act as an agency to help these businesses and business districts better the places where they do business,” Lewis said in his presentation to a crowd of approximately two dozen people. “(We look for) what … we can do to help them be successful.”

The organization’s outreach primarily focuses on two different methods for local, neighborhood development: technical assistance for small businesses and commercial corridor improvements, he said.

Neighborhood Ventures is a partner in the launch of an online portal for businesses to find resources such as the Michigan Small Business Development Center and offer training in Quickbooks, social media, and the like. The portal is being completed with the support of Grand Valley State University, the city of Grand Rapids and other corporate sponsorships, Lewis said.

The portal will be called Emerge West Michigan.

As an executive at a nonprofit corporation who has frequent contact with city government officials but who is not a municipal employee, Lewis said he’s at an advantage when doing outreach at neighborhood businesses. Frequently, he said small business owners will tell him their complaints about trash not being picked up or their struggles to get a larger sign on their facade.

“I can empathize with them,” Lewis said. “But I can also say, ‘Hey, I know who you need to talk to. Let me guide you through that system.’”

The city of Grand Rapids and Neighborhood Ventures (the city provides the nonprofit with some funding, as do foundations) also leverage state dollars from a program called Corridor Improvement Districts (CIDs). The districts operate similar to Downtown Development Authorities but are aimed at revitalizing aging commercial districts.

Grand Rapids currently has four CIDs – Uptown, Madison Square, North Quarter and the West Side – with the Michigan Street corridor now seeking to get the designation.

Once established, an authority from the corridor can easier leverage Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) and other development incentives to see more projects come to fruition. Lewis said the dollars – while meaningful – usually tend to translate to smaller projects that help to gradually improve a neighborhood.

“We are not going to build arenas, we’re not going to build Downtown Markets,” Lewis said. “We are not going to do big events in our neighborhood business districts. But small businesses can do a lot of stuff with $14,000.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been changed from its original format to reflect that Neighborhood Ventures is one of the partners in the launch of Emerge West Michigan.

Read 3766 times Last modified on Monday, 25 August 2014 13:49

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