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Today, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine announced the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation with a $2.9 million grant to renovate a building on St. Louis Street in downtown Mobile that will house Innovation PortAL. Local private foundations, private industry, the city of Mobile, Mobile County and the University of South Alabama committed to $1.9 million in matching funds.
Innovation PortAL, a program of the Mobile Area Chamber Foundation, is a place entrepreneurs will go to launch a business idea or accelerate an existing company with the help of industry experts, mentors and specialized training, according to Hayley Van Antwerp, Innovation PortAL’s executive director.
Mobile Area Chamber President and CEO Bill Sisson said, “We’re thrilled to receive this grant from the EDA. It helps propel the Innovation PortAL forward quickly and creates an environment where entrepreneurs can be successful and flourish for years to come. This project would have never been possible without Advancing Southwest Alabama, and the recognition the manufacturing designation brought to the region.”
According to the EDA release, Innovation PortAL will provide access to intense mentoring services, investment capital, investing networks, and a highly educated and skilled workforce to support local entrepreneurs and businesses.
The center is designed to foster manufacturing technologies and compatible businesses in a 35,000 square foot building at 358 St. Louis St., in the former Threaded Fasteners building. It will include a prototyping lab once the engineering and renovation is complete. And the building plans will be able to handle future expansion efforts.
Van Antwerp says the expected economic impact of the first five years of this project is to generate 500 local jobs and serve 300-plus entrepreneurs, who through their companies will contribute an estimated $5 million to the local economy.
“This grant is the catalyst that will transform this dream into a much needed resource for our community,” said Van Antwerp.
Currently Innovation PortAL is working out of a temporary space at Exchange 202 in downtown Mobile, and will welcome its first clients this fall. Prospective tenants will complete an online application and attach business, promotion and sales plans. Once it’s determined the business is a fit for the facility, candidates are invited to pitch their business plan to PortAL staff and a governing board.
Watch the October issue of The Business View for more on this exciting news.