A Community Investment

by Jonathan Wright

A new resource center aims to boost business development and economic opportunity on Peoria’s south side.

The culmination of years of efforts to assist Peoria’s minority business owners now lies in the ongoing construction at 2139 SW Adams, where the Black Business Alliance (BBA) is working to create the Minority Business Development Center (MBDC). Founded by Denise Moore in Bloomington, Illinois in 1999, the BBA launched a Peoria chapter in 2013 after finding that the city’s minority-owned businesses barely warranted an asterisk in the latest census data—they were so few. With decades of underinvestment on Peoria’s south side, business development and employment opportunities have suffered tremendously—something Moore hopes to change when the MBDC comes online later this year.

An Incubator for Business
The Minority Business Development Center will offer resources to prospective entrepreneurs and business owners—with a focus on minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses—to help them move through the steps of starting a business and provide stability so they can move on after two years. MBDC clients will be able to connect with other startups and entrepreneurs, access business experts for advice and consultation, and receive mentoring, coaching and training from a range of community partners—an alphabet soup of acronyms from METEC and PTAC to SBDC and SCORE. Additional amenities include a receptionist for greeting clients, offices and office equipment, conference and training rooms, shipping and receiving capabilities, and a variety of back-office services.

Along with her background in finance and city government, Moore understands the challenges faced by small business owners, having been one herself. In addition, she sits on a statewide council advising Illinois’ new Advancing the Development of Minority Entrepreneurship (ADME) program, and hopes others can learn from her experiences and expertise. “I’ve been thinking about this for 19 years,” she declares. “This is not a job—this is a passion for me.”

Her metrics for success are not unlike the ADME program itself: to turn out new or elevated businesses—“meaning we were able to help them go to the next level,” she clarifies. “And we will track that. We have an intake assessment form so we know where they are when they come in the door, and when they formally leave us, we’ll know where we’ve taken them.”

Community, Construction, Collaboration
Construction at the MBDC began last November, following the award of a $50,000 grant from Peoria County. Meanwhile, those grant dollars have been leveraged by in-kind donations from a variety of business partners. When the original contractor dropped off the project, Ronald Givens of Givsco Construction stepped up to offer his services. “He felt that this Development Center was something that needed to happen,” Moore notes. “He’s done so much to help us here.”

Through its Highway Construction Careers Training Program, Illinois Central College assisted in demolition work, and numerous other businesses—including Zeller Electric, UFS, Ron’s Carpets, Builder’s Warehouse, CORE Construction, Methodist College and Lewis Michael Construction—have donated generously of their time, materials and resources. By the end of February, progress was sufficient that the Black Business Alliance was able to move its administrative offices to the building. In addition, WPNV 106.3 FM—the BBA-owned radio station run by Moore and her husband, Garry—now operates out of the Center.

Plans for the second phase of development—including buildout of the classrooms and incubator space—are now underway, though additional funds are needed to complete the remainder of the $400,000 project. With one grant in limbo due to the state budget fiasco, Moore is looking for federal grant dollars, as well as support from the local community. “I would really like to see the community come behind this so they have more of an investment in its success.”

Return on Investment
According to Moore, enthusiasm for the Minority Business Development Center is as great as the need. One April morning, the day after holding an open house for public stakeholders, no less than six people came to the Center to talk with her, having seen coverage on TV. “These were people I had never met, who came in to ask about business assistance,” she notes. “And these weren’t just people with ideas… Some of them already had a growing [business] concern, but didn’t know the next steps to take. They just needed assistance in knowing where to go to get information.”

If the MBDC can help those businesses grow, Moore says, stability in the neighborhood will grow as well. “I’m hoping that the business community sees this as an investment—not only for the south side, but for our city,” she adds. “Wishing that things were better on the south side does not make it happen, but investing in it will. And if what we have seen up until now is any indication, their investment will be well spent.” iBi

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