When Calvin Simmons returned home to start his business four years ago, he started working out of his home garage and then was able to open his own shop Picasso Automotive about a year ago at 1800 Clark St.
But his passion isn’t just about wrenching on cars. He wants to help fix his community by hiring more people.
Simmons’ is one example of how the business community is rallying around small businesses and entrepreneurs, which is the reason Mayor John Dickert rolled out a comprehensive business development services portfolio at a press conference held Monday.
“We saw gaps from zero to one, two to five, five to 10, 25 to 50, and up to 120 employees… we saw gaps for funding so with this program we are saying to everyone out there: If you want to grow your business in Racine, Wisconsin, this is how you are going to do it,” Dickert said.
The Business Development Services Portfolio document pulls together a variety of business-friendly resources, including: economic development partners, small business development financial resources, development initiatives, workforce development opportunities, and services available to businesses and highlights networking opportunities. The document also highlights the city’s new small development revolving loan fund and capital catalyst program, a loan and grant-making fund.
“This is our toolkit for success,” Dickert said. “So we’re giving you the tools. We have the players available and we are going to continue to help grow the businesses in our community.”
Dickert pointed to how Racine has dropped its employment rate from 17 percent to 6 percent.
“And we’re not done. In working with great partners like Gateway Technical College, the Racine County Economic Development Corporation, Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) and our Chamber, we’re going to continue to cut the unemployment rate here,” Dickert said.
Heather Lux, project director for WWBIC southeast, said businesses commonly face three challenges: finding resources, business planning, and access to capital.
“It really does take a village,” she said. “This plan today, I’m so excited about it because I can’t wait to see the incredible outcomes and successes that we have from it.”
While a number of the partnerships outlined in the portfolio aren’t new, Dickert said the document and the increased funding for the small business development revolving loan fund and capital catalyst program are new.
“We helped design new packages for financing that were not available in the past and that’s part of this program,” Dickert said.
A number of the programs are funded by the city through the Racine Development Authority and other funding sources, but Dickert didn’t have details on how much more funding was available and the percentage of the funding from various sources. However, in November the city and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation started up a loan and grant program with $400,000 for high-tech start-ups.
For example, Simmons received a $10,000 loan from the City of Racine, and he is currently hoping to get more funding from the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. to hire more employees.
“When you are a one-man band, you are trying to get help and getting others to come is like trying to hire stragglers off the streets,” he said. “But I don’t believe in that, I believe in professionalism.”
A veteran, Simmons graduated at the top of his class from Lincoln Technical Institute in New Jersey, but he wanted to come back to Racine to share his skills with young people.
“To be successful, you have to start somewhere so being educated and being highly educated by getting that degree and that diploma,” Simmons said. “There a lot of people say that you could be in the streets, but I don’t believe in the streets… what I believe in is being successful.
“I’m just trying to show the young people here that crime is not the way to go.”