Chamber of Commerce reborn on Near West Side
News article originally posted here
Visit the Near West Side these days and it’s clear that local businesses – many of them new – are alive and well. Now, after a lengthy hiatus, the Madison-Western Chamber of Commerce has been revived with new leadership and new energy to help these businesses continue to thrive.
“I’ve been down in this area for 28 years, and this is one of the most positive things we’ve seen,” said Bill Phillips, owner of Elite Truck Rental and a chamber board member. He feels encouraged by the new chamber and proud of the work it took to get to this point. “It was an issue, getting businesses and customers to come down here. It’s a whole different area now. The changes are really becoming evident."
Photo: The busy intersection of Ogden and Ashland Avenues forms an eastern border of Near West’s shopping district.
The revamped chamber represents a milestone in this neighborhood’s revitalization. Under the Near West Side Community Development Corporation's (Near West) leadership, a group of developers, planners, property managers, retailers and nonprofit partners has been cultivating commercial business growth as the Madison Retail Redevelopment Initiative (MRRI). Their collaborative effort, supported by The Partnership for New Communities, spurred a virtual transformation of the local business community.
“There is a freshness to a lot of these business owners,” says Mike Quinlan, Executive Director of the chamber and Program Manager of the MRRI. “With all the obvious positive things coming out of the retail initiative, local businesses saw a clear need for a chamber to provide ongoing support and resources.”
Registered chambers have access to important support and resources not available to ad hoc groups or unaffiliated businesses. Chief among these is eligibility for funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that is channeled through cities. Chambers also serve as respected, institutionalized advocacy platforms for local businesses.
Photo: Long-time local business owner Bill Phillips says Elite Truck Rental has benefited from retail revitalization efforts in Near West.
“Strong business infrastructure provides a solid base for sustained community vitality,” said Maria Hibbs, Executive Director of The Partnership. “Businesses supply goods and services to local consumers, provide jobs and support community activities from Little League teams to street festivals and arts groups.”
An evolution of the MRRI, the resurrected Madison-Western Chamber of Commerce already is having an impact. At one of the first meetings, a catering business owner learned about SBIF (Small Business Improvement Funding) grants, which are available through chambers, and decided to apply.
“In a lot of neighborhoods, community development corporations (CDCs) are very separate entities from chambers, but they’re ultimately part of the same circle,” says Quinlan. “So this is a rare case and opportunity where the chamber and the CDC are really hand in hand and see the bigger picture."
The first orders of business? Finalizing details of chamber membership and working to get new street banners.
“I think we can really be a force in the neighborhood,” says Phillips. “We’re on the right track.”
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