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Gary comes to the rescue of small business startups

GARY MAYOR Eddie Melton and recipients of the city’s small business grants.

Melton says businesses will grow Gary and northwest Indiana

Maybe you’ve seen or maybe you’ve purchased Angel Knight’s ‘Trail My Mix,’ a healthy snack of dried fruits and nuts she sells at local farmers markets and at event spaces.

Beauty salons are the customers of Celina Dominguez’s ‘So Fresh So Clean’ cleaning service. She wants to hire workers to branch out to more businesses and property management companies.

Both were among the small business owners at Gary’s city hall Wednesday who had been awarded grants from funds the city received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. “I know they’ve been a long time coming,” said Gary Mayor Eddie Melton at the Meet & Greet reception to present checks in amounts of $7,500 and $10,000 to recipients.

In late 2022, Gary Mayor Jerome Prince and the Common Council appropriated $2.5 million of its ARPA funds to assist small businesses to protect against and overcome the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2023, the Prince administration set up a review committee of city, business, and higher education representatives to accept applications.

“Within the program, money was set aside for those wishing to start a business. And that’s why we’re here today,” said Mayor Melton.

Of the nearly 400 applications the committee reviewed, 150 were business startup applications. Sixty were selected to go through a four-week small business startup class at Indiana University Northwest. Melton said 49 completed the class and submitted business plans.

IU Northwest recommended 36 startups receive funding. The review committee also made recommendations. The city awarded $10,000 grants to 24 new businesses and $7,500 grants to 12 new businesses.

Lisa Bennett of Fearless Coaching, LLC received a $10K grant. Bennett wants to bring her 30 years experience on Wall Street helping transform Fortune 500 corporations to her hometown. “I can plant those seeds in my community and help Gary’s small businesses grow.”

Knight and Dominguez also received $10K grants. Dominguez brought along her son, Antonio, owner of Juice Jung Café, a juice bar coming soon to west 29th Avenue, across the street from the Hard Rock Casino. Antonio wasn’t a grant recipient.

Tequeya Spann-Payne operates a child care center. She received a $10K grant to start up ‘Walking With A Purpose,” a new business.

Through childcare she gained insight on the hardships young women face every day. Walking with a Purpose will help those women seek resources, shelter, and become financially free, Spann-Payne said.

“These small businesses will not only fuel the growth of Gary, but northwest Indiana as a whole,” Mayor Melton said. “In our 100-day plan, we talk about creating a small business advisory council. We’re working on pulling some folks together to help give us advice on how the city can be a better partner with small businesses.”

Mayor Melton said the city has so far distributed $1,925,000 of the $2.5 million ARPA funds.

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