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BUSINESS: Grant competition for Homewood businesses announced

Posted by Elwin Green on October 30, 2012 at 7:55 PM

As Hurricane Sandy plunged the northeastern U.S. into a climate disaster, Bill Generett Jr. considered canceling a meeting that he had scheduled for this evening.


"But when I woke up this morning, every for-profit business I knew was open," he said.


That was his clue and his cue to go ahead with his meeting - a gathering of business owners at the Homewood Carnegie Library to talk about a new grant competition being created by Generett's organization, Urban Innovation21.


The competition will offer a total of $100,000 to Homewood businesses, as well as technical assistance to help them grow. Urban Innovation21 plans to launch the competition in late November, and to award the grants in March.

Urban Innovation21 is a Hill District-based public-private partnership created to expand the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone. The PCKIZ, headed by Generett, was originally centered on the Hill, Downtown and Uptown.

Tonight, some 40 to 50 people filled a meeting room on the library's second floor to hear Generett's presentation about the competition, and then to ask questions.


The agency has identified a zone in which to focus its efforts, bounded on the west by Lang Avenue, on the north by Frankstown Avenue, on the east by Brushton Avenue, and on the south by Hamilton from Brushton to Homewood, then by the East Busway.


As the floor was opened for questions, audience members zeroed in on the zone concept. Would a business have to be located in that zone to get grant? (No.) Can Urban Innovation help a business to acquire property? (they could possibly help a business owner to connect with someone who could help.)


The competition follows an earlier one that was for Hill District business owners, in which Generett said Urban Innovation expected to receive 20 or 30 applications, and received more than 60.


The agency made a mistake with that competition, he said, when it awarded a grant to a business, but "We didn't connect to the support services" that would have helped the business to develop a marketing plan.


This time, he pledged, "We will help each and every business move to the next level."


Carol Howze lives in Braddock, but is considering Homewood as the location for a retail/consignment shop that would operate as "the for-profit sector of a safe haven for women who are trying to become self-sufficient." (Whew!)


I asked if, for someone in her situation, the assistance offered in doing a business plan could be just as important as the grant money itself.


"Definitely," she said. "This is the first time...where I feel motivated to start that application process."

I saw a couple of Homewood's nonprofits represented - Marteen Garay, of the Homewood Children's Village, was there, as was Jerome Jackson, executive director of Operation Better Block.


Homewood's only bank, PNCBank, was present in Mary Ellen Sullivan, vice-president for community development banking.


"We've worked with Bill since day one," she said. "This is a great opportunity, especially the technical assistance part -that's worth so much."


Majestic Lane, senior executive assistant to state Sen. Jim Ferlo, was the only government representative present.


"This is one of the best things that's happening in a long time," he said. "It's great to see that resources are coming to our business owners that have long been neglected."

Attendees filled out a survey that Urban Innovation21 will use as a contact database. Meanwhile, details and updated information will be available on the Urban Innovation 21 website.

In March, in the same meeting room, the agency sponsored a presentation by the America 21 Project, in which three speakers - Mike Green, Johnathan Holified and Chad Womack - encouraged listeners to think about how to connect Homewood's economic development to four disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics - a grouping commonly abbreviated STEM.

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