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JP Morgan and Chase: Program spurs start up businesses and renovates commercial districts

(Milwaukee-October 11) A consortium of nonprofit and business leaders are launching an economic development investment effort to fuel entrepreneurship and revitalize commercial districts in distressed neighborhoods near Milwaukee’s growing downtown with a new $200,000 investment from JPMorgan Chase’s PRO Neighborhoods initiative. This pilot project is intended to lay the groundwork for larger initiatives such as the City of Detroit’s successful Motor City Match program. “Just as development capital has flowed to downtown opportunities, we want to make sure investments flow to adjacent cultural commercial corridors that have been plagued by historical disinvestment,” said Donsia Strong Hill, executive director of LISC Milwaukee. “This strategy will help these districts stabilize and mitigate the risk of displacement”, explained Strong Hill.

The pilot, called “Ramp Up” aims to catalyze the revitalization of distressed properties along commercial districts in neighborhoods adjacent to the downtown through façade grants and white-box grants, while accelerating a pipeline of promising local entrepreneurs to anchor districts at risk of over investment by outside developers. The pilot phase includes developing and matching small businesses with “pop up” retail opportunities that activate commercial space, and make way for permanent retail placements.

“We believe that success depends on the public, nonprofit and private sectors working together,” said Brian Grossman, region manager, Commercial Bank, JPMorgan Chase. “Across the country, we have seen that partnerships are vital to the revitalization of neighborhoods, and we are proud to be a part of this opportunity to make a meaningful impact in Milwaukee neighborhoods.”

Financing for white box and facades will come from the City of Milwaukee, JPMorgan Chase, and Business Improvement Districts (BIDS). “This structure provides strong incentive for renovations,” said Donsia Strong Hill. LISC will provide technical assistance to BIDs, property owners, and supplement funds with additional financing products as appropriate.

Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) will help identify and match small businesses and artists well-suited for the commercial districts and available space. This initiative builds on existing efforts by WWBIC to cultivate small businesses within the city, and emerging work with artists as entrepreneurs. Businesses would receive a small grant to develop their retail concepts, which could be supplemented by small business loans from the partnering agencies.

“In 2017, WWBIC celebrates 30 years of impact. This pilot is an incredible opportunity to build on our momentum of recent years and link the targeted entrepreneurs that we serve to a larger and more comprehensive city-wide effort. Entrepreneurship is an engine of job creation, and individuals who create employment for themselves usually hire from their immediate neighborhoods as well,” said Wendy Baumann, president and chief vision officer for WWBIC. The goal is to set up “pop-up” shops in three commercial districts over the next year, where emerging retail entrepreneurs can test their projects and strategies. Twelve to fifteen retail-friendly businesses are expected to participate. The “pop-up” retail model, is used to activate space, and cultivate long-term retail opportunities for small business owners. “Pop-up” shops are growing in popularity due to the benefits: affordability, short term commitment, visibility, and opportunities to test products. The pilot will also seed the launch of MORTAR, a Cincinnati-based, minority business accelerator. MORTAR enables under-served entrepreneurs and businesses to succeed through culturally-relevant cohort training, and pop-up retail experience. MORTAR also operates six pop up locations in Cincinnati, and will bring this expertise to this project. The Milwaukee MORTAR program will be housed at the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin (AACCW) in partnership with the Milwaukee Urban League (MUL) and LISC.

PRO Neighborhoods is JPMorgan Chase’s $125 million initiative that provides capital to local community development financial institutions (CDFIs) to address the drivers of economic opportunity in neighborhoods. The CDFIs work together to pool resources and expand lending activities for building health and education facilities, open retail centers and support community services in under-resourced neighborhoods.

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