Match Maker

The City of Fort Wayne launches a pilot program to connect businesses and buildings.
Jul 3, 2019
Jennifer Blomquist
Steve Vorderman
Match Maker

The right fit.

That’s what the Summit City Match South Calhoun pilot program strives to find.

“It launched in April, and the program is matching vacant building spaces with businesses,” says Trois Hart, Director of SEED Fort Wayne.

SEED, or the Summit City Entrepreneur and Enterprise District, was formerly known as the Urban Enterprise Association. State legislation regarding the program prompted the name change last year.

“With the re-naming of SEED, the City Council, Mayor Tom Henry and others saw fit to expand the former zone to include our city’s corridors that emanate out of downtown. Those corridors include: South Calhoun, North and South Anthony, Fairfield, Broadway, Bluffton, Goshen, Wells and East Coliseum Boulevard. Those are long-standing corridors that serve as the front doors for our neighborhoods. One way to strengthen our community is to strengthen those front doors,” says Hart.

Last summer, 25 individuals from different Fort Wayne agencies toured Detroit to learn about that city’s revitalization plan. One of the tools that proved to be successful there was a program called the Motor City Match.

“JP Morgan Chase financed the Detroit trip and encouraged us to apply for a $150,000 redevelopment pilot grant that could benefit Fort Wayne. We hired the same consultants who worked with Detroit and they helped us to form the Summit City Match program,” says Hart. “JP Morgan Chase was explicit that our match program be customized to Fort Wayne. The Summit City Match is not a Detroit program in Fort Wayne.”

The South Calhoun pilot started coming together at the end of last year. Hart says representatives from the local Hispanic Chamber, the Black Chamber, Greater Fort Wayne Inc., Allen County Planning, SEED and the City of Fort Wayne began meeting regularly to discuss the plan.

“There has been a tremendous amount of work and thought put into the pilot,” says Hart. “We have a working group of about a dozen individuals, and a steering group represented by City of Fort Wayne Community Development leadership, JP Morgan Chase, Latinos Count, the Black Chamber, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and SEED.”

All of that hard work comes to fruition this summer as the match-making, so to speak, begins.

“During the city’s ‘Open Streets’ event this July, we will hold a pop-up marketing event to promote the building spaces available to entrepreneurs in the South Calhoun corridor. We have been reaching out to up-and-coming business owners as well as building owners to apply to our program in the hope that it will lead to a match. That way, a building owner who’s looking for the right tenant and an entrepreneur who’s looking for the right kind of space for their business can be connected.”

Hart says the matches will be made in August and the goal is to fill a minimum of six vacant spaces.

“We don’t tell people which buildings they have to take. Our role is to facilitate the discussion between the building owner and the business owner on what makes sense.”

The assistance for the entrepreneurs doesn’t end there. Once a match happens, Hart says the business owner can apply to the Summit City Match for a grant. Most of the grants will be awarded to businesses owned by women or people of color.

“There’s a term we use called ‘equitable entrepreneurship,’ which means you make sure everybody has equitable opportunity for connections that enable a business to start or thrive. Certainly, women and people of color have the same talent, intellectual capacity, creative strengths and motivation that anybody else has. But they are often ‘under-connected’ with opportunities and resources.”

And for those business owners who don’t have a business plan, there’s yet another program that provides assistance with that. No matter how you look at it, says Hart, this is a win-win for everyone.

“We are doing everything we can to set up these entrepreneurs for success. By doing so, we strengthen our neighborhoods, which, in turn, supports the city’s strategy for revitalization.” 

Summit City Entrepreneur and Enterprise District (SEED) District Governed by SEED Fort Wayne 501(c)(3) Redevelopment Organization

Address: 1830 Wayne Trace Fort Wayne, Indiana 46803

Phone: (260) 422-2304

Website: SEEDfw.org

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