Bill Generett Jr., J.D. remembers Homewood as a thriving community. Speaking to an audience of approximately 50 people he mentioned the former Athletic Foot, the Subway Shop and a few other establishments that once operated in the community. His recollection dates back 20 years.
|LISTEN CAREFULLY—Bill Generett Jr., J.D., executive director of Urban Innovation 21 unveils the Homewood Business Grant to an audience at the Homewood Library. (Photo by Diane I. Daniels)
As executive director of Urban Innovation 21, Generett’s goal is to improve the business conditions of a once thriving community. His organization, a non-profit, is structured to provide various incentives such as business support services, grants, tax incentives, and interns. It is structured to help businesses grow, to create jobs and to create wealth for the owners.
Based in the Hill District at 1901 Centre Avenue, Urban Innovation 21 is considered a public-private partnership that boosts regional economic development through 21st century innovation-driven entrepreneurship. Generett said the group had a reputation of offering incentives focused on technology companies mostly located in a geographic area that includes parts of the Hill District, Downtown, North Side and the South Side sections of Pittsburgh. They aim to change that thinking.
Recently in Homewood conducting an information session, Generett and his staff Carolina Pais-Barreto Beyers and consultant David Hopkins announced the launching of a grant program for profit businesses in Homewood called the Homewood Business Grant Competition.
“We are looking to play a small role in revitalizing the business district,” Generett said. “Our part is to help businesses; that is why the concentration and focus will be around the Homewood Avenue Corridor.”
Indicating that $100,000 is the total amount Urban Innovation 21 has to award the Homewood project, Generett pointed out that details for the grant program are still being finalized. Not sure the number of grants that will be presented, he estimated that the allocations will not be more than $10,000 for each company. He did indicate the following as goals for the business grant competition: to increase the number of new start-up businesses in Homewood; to provide small grants to some successful existing businesses to help them grow; to connect Homewood businesses to existing sources of financing; to recruit other organizations to provide resources and services that will create successful businesses owned by Homewood residents; to increase awareness of and get more Homewood based businesses to use the services of existing business service providers and to assist the Homewood community become connected to the city’s successful new economy. Staff expect to launch the grant program in November with awards to take place in March of 2013.
Concerns from the audience during the Oct. 30 session focused on other funders involved in the program, the designated area of focus and other business assistance groups located in Homewood. Assuring that funders involved like PNC Bank, Bridgeway Capital and Kiva are on board to be creative and focused on making the program a success, Generett pointed out that their goal is to be sensitive and to help people through issues like credit and receiving capital to make their business ventures successful.
With the current boundaries of the project focusing around Frankstown, North Homewood, Hamilton, Bennett, North Lang and Brushton Avenues, it was explained that the zone is aspirational and that nothing is written in stone. Grants can be made to home based businesses, startups as well as existing businesses.
Majestic Lane, senior executive assistant to Senator Jim Ferlo, addressing the question on existing business groups in the area, pointed out that Operation Better Block and the Homewood Children’s Village are on board. Staff from both groups were present. He also stated that area business owners have been meeting to organize a Homewood chamber. Recognizing that currently there is no community development corporation in Homewood, he acknowledged that Councilman Ricky Burgess is working to identify someone to operate an East End Consortium.
Excited about the possibilities for the Homewood Grant Competition, Generett assured the crowd of potential and existing entrepreneurs that he and his staff will do what they can to make the project successful. “We will work with all businesses and individually meet with groups and organizations.”
The Homewood Grant Competition is the second one Urban Innovation 21 has kicked off. In the process of reviewing the 65 applications from the Hill District, Generett said they were pleased to receive that many. He suggested that potential Homewood applicants follow the process by visiting their website at www.urbaninnovation21.org. The website also identifies and explains other Urban Innovation 21 programs like the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Urban Revitalization Program, Economic Development Initiative, the Pittsburgh Wealth-Building Initiative and their internship programs.
Strictly designed for profit businesses, Generett said the Homewood Grant Competition will bring other non-profit organizations into the community to create an environment where businesses can grow.
“We are looking to establish businesses that will add jobs and revitalize the community,” he emphasized. “We want to see this area come back, to be a place where people want to invest. Good things are soon to happen in Homewood and that is positive.”
A little apprehensive, but excited about what is predicted for Homewood, Mekkah Weaver, the owner of Mekkah Fragrances, believes that Homewood should house every resource that is needed by the residents.
“This program is a good idea, but if the community does not support the businesses it is not going to work. But on the other hand if the businesses do not offer reasonable and competitive prices the community won’t support them,” she said. “I grew up in Homewood and would like to see it thriving again.”
Generett encourages anyone with questions, suggestions or ideas to contact the Urban Innovation 21 office at 412-281-0102.
“We need and want to know what services are needed to help businesses grow. What types of businesses residents want in the business district and what are some of the challenges,” he said. “We only can only help if the community helps us help them.”