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READY TO MAKE A PRESENTATION—LaKeisha Wolf, a Hill District entrepreneur and Marimba Milliones, Hill CDC executive director examine equipment in the new Business Center. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)


 Potential, start up and existing entrepreneurs often find it challenging to locate well equipped, functional, cost effective meeting space.  Emerging artist and independent curator Kaceem Barnett is a perfect example. New to the arena and anxious to get his art on display, the Hill District Community Development Corporation’s Community Development Business Center is serving as the perfect venue for his work.

Positioned on the first floor of the Hill CDC’s 2015-2017 Centre Avenue office, according to Marimba Milliones the Business Center exists to assist prospective small business owners and to increase the success rate and the number of viable small businesses in the Hill District like Barnett.
In their efforts to provide a secure, convenient and intimate place to transact and conduct business, the Hill CDC executive director says the space is another resource for meeting and networking in the Hill District. The technology enabled facility is equipped with Wi-Fi and conferencing capabilities and provides space for small art displays. Usage of the free space is by appointment.
Responsible for business economic vitality in the greater Hill District, Milliones said that through the push for development on the Centre Avenue corridor by City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, the Hill CDC has a great incentive to assist in the development of small businesses and the Business Center plays a small roll.
“The Center is a critical tool for the community,” points out Lavelle. “It fills a much needed void for a meeting facility for entrepreneurs.”     
“We are working with good partners to assist businesses to start and locate in the Hill District,” said Milliones. “We are a connector.”
An entrepreneur herself, Milliones said she is aware of the ups and downs of self-employment and aware of resources and assistance businesses need at all levels from startups to existing. Organizations they work with include but are not limited to the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania, the Allegheny County Minority / Women / Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Department, the Duquesne Small Business Development Center, the New Hill District Business Association, the Ujamaa Collective, the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, Urban Innovation21 and the Western Pennsylvania Minority Supplier Development Council.
“Our partners’ services range from providing business development assistance, technical assistance, financial packaging, MBE/WBE certification, to providing networking opportunities locally and nationally,” she said.
Not just focusing in the Hill District, collectively the Hill CDC, the Hill House Association, Community College of Allegheny County, Urban Innovation 21, the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence and Duquesne University’s Small Business Development Center are working to help underserved communities take advantage of the growth in the energy and healthcare industries by focusing on job-related education, start-up and business growth services for residents in targeted neighborhoods. The Southwestern Urban Revitalization Project, according to Hill CDC officials is an initiative developed to foster economic growth in the Hill District and surrounding communities through job training and entrepreneurial development.
In existence since 1987, the Hill CDC works with private, public non-profit developers, and other interested parties in early stages of planning, design and implementation of community development projects to assure alignment with appropriate stakeholders and the community master plan. Its mission is to work in partnership with residents and stakeholders to create, promote, and implement strategies and programs that connect plans, policies and people to drive compelling community development opportunities in the Greater Hill District. Neighborhoods in the community it serves include Crawford Square, Bedford Dwellings, Uptown/Bluff, Terrace Village, Upper Hill, Uptown and the Lower Hill (former 28 acre Civic Arena Site).
Milliones, a lifelong resident has served as the executive director since the spring of 2011. Possessing a love for her community, her goal is to move the community forward by focusing on driving and implementing the Greater Hill District Master plan.
“My family roots are here; I am connected to the neighborhood and believe in its potential,” she said.   
The plan was created by active residents and stakeholders of the Hill. It outlines development of new housing, retail, business, recreation and green space; renovation of existing space; and key initiatives that support the community and its residents.
“The Hill is a great neighborhood. Full of history and culture it is one of the largest and most versatile in the city,” said Milliones. “Strategically its major thoroughfares; Centre Avenue, Herron, Fifth Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard host the major arteries for commerce in Southwestern Pennsylvania. It also sits next to the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Carnegie Mellon and Carlow University.”  
Realizing that there is much work to be done to bring the life into the Hill that the Master Plan calls for, Milliones says the Hill CDC under her leadership will continue to serve as an agent for positive change.
“It is resources like the Community Development Business Center that will draw businesses to the corridor. Businesses and people that have something to offer like emerging artist Kaceem Barnett,” she said.
(To reserve space in the Business Center call, 412-765-1820 or e-mail info@hilldistrict.org.)

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