The Austin Chamber of Commerce is once again slated to receive a Chicago Neighborhood Business Development Center (NBDC) grant – something that the chamber’s current board has sought for years.

The grant, which is issued by the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) helps neighborhood chambers of commerce and other local business development organizations fund free training programs for aspiring entrepreneurs. The grant seeks to encourage the growth of minority-owned businesses by teaching them about workforce development, marketing, applying for start-up funding, as well as the basics of getting a small business off the ground. The Austin chamber lost access to the grant at the height of the pandemic due to inactivity. 

Continuing West Side grantees include the Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAA-BNA), the West Side Forward business development organization, and the Northwest Connection Chamber of Commerce, which, as the name suggests, mostly covers Northwest Side neighborhoods, but its service area also includes North Austin and West Humboldt Park. 

AAA-BNA’s and Northwest Connection’s grants are paying for Place-Based Generalists, while West Side Forward got funding for industry-specific supports.

AAA-BNA Executive Director Malcolm Crawford said the NBCD grant allowed his organization to hire Eric Strickland, former head of the Lawndale Business and Local Development Corporation, and he’s been happy to get a professional of Strickland’s caliber. The most recent funding was used to renovate AAA-BNA’s business center, which is located in the east portion of the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave. 

“It’s a beautiful place and the city put a lot of resources into it,’ Crawford said. “They put in a lot of work in that section of the building.  It’s been used quite a bit. We got quite a lot of walk-ins looking for funding opportunities.”

The BACP announced the latest round of NBDC grant recipients on March 14, including 18 new or returning entities. Also receiving grants are three West Side business development organizations – the Hatchery Chicago, an East Garfield Park food business incubator, 135 N. Kedzie Ave.; Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, 3843 W. Ogden Ave., and Lawndale Business Renaissance Association, 906 S. Homan Ave. The exact use of their grants varies depending on the application, with some looking to fund more general business support services and other asking for industry-specific services, or something that focuses on innovating beyond the traditional business models. 

As previously reported by Austin Weekly News, the Austin Chamber of Commerce fell on hard times after then Executive Director Amara Enyia stepped down after an unsuccessful 2019 mayoral campaign. By 2021, two board members had retired, leaving only three members: Crystal Dyer, Ed Coleman and Anthony Scott. The chamber than lost NBDC funding. By fall of 2021, the chamber grew its board, and it hired a new permanent executive director, Khalilah Johnson, in the spring of 2022. Johnson and the new board have been trying to do more in the community and provide business services and support.

Johnson said the chamber got $24,000 in NBDC finding – though she mentioned that they haven’t received the money as of March 22.

“We’ll be helping [entrepreneurs] in the community who are right at the start-up phase of the business,” she said. “We’ll help them with the business plans, help them with [setting up] the LLC, getting their business started.”

Johnson said the chamber already started to offer services at DLV Printing Service offices, 5825 W. Corcoran Ave., as it waits to receive the money.  Entrepreneurs can schedule an appointment on weekdays, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The Hatchery was opened in 2018 by the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago (ICNC) as a business incubator specifically built to serve the needs of food-related businesses. According to the BACP website, the grant will be used to pay for an “industry specialist” – a business advisor that specificizes in a specific industry, in this case, making and selling food and/or beverages. 

 Lawndale Christian Development Corporation was established in 1987 by the Lawndale Christian Community Church to develop and manage mixed-use housing and support business development. It currently operates a business co-op, that, according to its website, “specializes in the incubation and support of worker-owned cooperatives offering back-office support services such as governance training, technical support, tax preparation, and other services.”

LCDC’s grant can be used to pay for an “innovation specialist.” This can include providing support for new business models and/or business incubator services.

According to its website, Lawndale Business Renaissance Association seeks to attract new businesses and support existing businesses in North Lawndale in order to revitalize the community. Much of that involves helping area businesses secure city, county and state funding and tax incentives. 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...