Newsmaker: LINC connects neighborhoods to change

Newsmaker: LINC connects neighborhoods to change

A number of businesses have set up shop in the LINC Business Center on Madison Avenue SE, which is just down the street from the organization’s headquarters. Photo by Mike Nichols

Editor’s note: The Business Journal is recognizing 10 nominees for its 2012 Newsmaker of the Year Award, based on their long-term economic impact on the region. One nominee will be featured each day on — leading up to the Jan. 21 announcement of the 2012 Grand Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year.

LINC Community Revitalization is going to spend $13 million in 2013 on its mission to save forgotten West Michigan neighborhoods.

Since its inception in 2000, the Kent County neighborhood revitalization nonprofit has poured millions into the belief that economies change when neighborhood businesses do.

LINC simultaneously focuses on four pillars of neighborhood revitalization — economic development, real estate development, resident services and neighborhood services — and is seeing the fruits of its labor.

Jorge Gonzalez, LINC director of economic development, said the streets LINC works on — Madison, Wealthy, Grandville, Eastern — are seeing businesses and living conditions flourish, while crime and poverty rates dip.

Offering the community a free shot at creating its own small businesses is how LINC is saving neighborhoods, Gonzalez said.

“Without the economic development of helping small business owners be sustainable, you’re not able to help the overall economy. When you help a small business owner be successful, they create jobs,” he said.

“Once you get all that together, you see no vandalism; you see no abandoned buildings; you see less crime," he said. "And you see more pride in the community, people cleaning up their yards and just having the pride that they live in a good neighborhood.”

More than 50 people work out of the LINC Development Center at 1167 Madison Ave. SE, just down the street from LINC's business incubator at 1258 Madison Ave. SE, which houses startups LINC trained and funded.

Israel Johnson, one of the first students in LINC’s incubation program, said there are so many different projects LINC has for businesses, schools and neighborhoods, it's hard to highlight which one is his favorite.

The owner of Klipper Kingdom, an upscale barber shop that runs out of LINC’s business incubator, Johnson is grateful for how open LINC was to his ideas and supporting local entrepreneurs.

“The neighborhood has changed for the better, because LINC is putting money back into the community, building better buildings,” Johnson said. “Business brings business. People are seeing the money going back to their buildings and how something positive is happening in the neighborhood. It helps.”

LINC seeks to rebuild decaying neighborhoods around startups, a philosophy of “county wide, neighborhood-deep” change.

In November, $3.2 million from Neighborhood Stabilization Funds went into the development of 16 townhomes in the Madison Square neighborhood.

Funds from Michigan’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit led to the construction of a $10 million business and residential development in the Southtown neighborhood. When completed, it will feature a four-story building on the corner of Madison and Hall, complete with 44 residential units and an additional 13,000 square feet of commercial space.

As LINC looks to incubate more businesses, the team rallies behind the “mom-and-pop” stores, Gonzalez said, because they create jobs for local residents.

“Long gone are the days when we’re going to have a General Motors or a Ford come to the neighborhood and create 500 jobs,” Gonzalez said. “It’s the ‘mom-and-pop’ shops who create jobs. It’s guys like Israel who employ two people or other small businesses like the restaurant that employ five people.”

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