Skip to main content

Business District Leadership Program Begins Second Class with 20 New Neighborhood Participants

2016 Business District Leadership participants.

Annie Grossinger

After a successful first year, the LISC Chicago Business District Leadership (BDL) program will support a second group of nonprofit and public sector leaders working within neighborhood business districts with the tools and training necessary to deepen their expertise in revitalizing commercial corridors.

The 20 selected individuals range from seasoned professionals to up-and-coming leaders who seek to promote projects within their respective neighborhoods. Each participant identifies and executes a neighborhood change project while enrolled in BDL. BDL supports each person by focusing on building leadership and confidence through professional development training and peer-to-peer networking. There are monthly Leadership Days and Strategy Days which provide workshops on the respective focus in order to advance learning and sharing. The program is uniquely designed to equip these leaders with enhanced leadership skills and exposure to strategies, resources and networks – including federal, city and county departments – that are critical to cultivating vibrant commercial corridors.

Dionne Baux

Gordon Walek

“These folks are charged with leading change in their neighborhood and we work to give them the support they need,” said Dionne Baux, the LISC Chicago senior program officer who oversees the BDL program. “We help them manage the competing interests and high expectations that come with their roles.”

 This year, LISC Chicago took a targeted approach to selecting participants by identifying individuals that want to grow and explore their leadership skills in order to expand their organization’s capacity.

 “We look for people with a genuine curiosity,” said Baux. “Our goal is to build trust among one another so they can learn from each other. Many of the selected individuals are one-person shops or are so entrenched in their communities that they don’t often have the opportunity to step back and get a high-level view. BDL offers the opportunity to gain multiple perspectives.”

BDL aims to build a long list of alumni, year after year, who can continue to engage with one another.

Martin Sorge

Annie Grossinger

Based on a recommendation from one of last year’s BDL participants, Martin Sorge, the director of community development for the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce (LPCC), decided to apply. “I’ve seen growth in these folks that they attribute to the program,” Sorge said. “They’re more confident in their roles.”

Sorge is looking for help tackling a specific problem facing his neighborhood. The relocation of a hospital has drastically affected the economy of the area – the hospital was a large employer and supporter of many local businesses. It drove traffic to the area, which has been difficult to replace.

“The main thing I’m looking for is building relationships with people,” said Sorge. “The practical, experiential learning is really important. It will give me a chance to get feedback from day-to-day work.”

Sorge hopes his year with the BDL program will assist him in securing project buy-in from the Lincoln Park community as LPCC addresses the need caused by the hospital’s relocation.

“I would like to use this year to empower people – our staff or business owners or folks in the community – so that the project keeps going. I want to get folks onboard with sharing ideas in a way that’s collaborative. Not everyone will agree on everything but if folks buy in as a whole, they will help.”

Yessenia Carreon, secretary of the board for the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce, is also looking for ways to develop economic opportunities in the once-prosperous Commercial Avenue Business District, which now suffers from closed businesses and vacant properties. Her project, an incubator for new businesses, aims to address local business owners’ concerns that rent is too much to afford in the first year or two.

Yessenia Carreon

Annie Grossinger

“The incubator would serve as a location so they can get on their feet,” said Carreon. “Then we can help them find a location and occupy the vacant properties.”

The incubator, which is in its infancy, would benefit from the expertise of the other BDL participants.

“What I loved about the first BDL meeting is I realized there are so many people at the table who have done incubators,” said Carreon. “I’m hoping the BDL program will help me get the ball rolling.”

Yemisi Dinkins, MA Director of Business Development for the West Side Health Authority, is looking to establish the first Special Service Area in the Austin community, which would bring together businesses along the Chicago Avenue corridor.

“My thought is that the BDL program will help with facilitation and navigation,” said Dinkins. But she doesn’t want to be too hyper-focused on her project. “I’m hoping to get an understanding for what this looks like for other folks’ projects that aren’t necessarily related to my projects – just a broader perspective of what developing that out looks like.”

After the first year of the BDL program, Baux and LISC learned that the monthly workshops were key opportunities for the participants to engage with one another.

“We expose them to subject matter experts in the field, but then we want to allow them a moment to debrief and receive feedback,” said Baux. “They can say to themselves, ‘how do I share these resources with my team members?’”

Yemisi Dinkins

Annie Grossinger

Like many of the other participants, Carreon found sharing to be the biggest appeal: “After eight and a half years working for the city, I feel like I have a lot of information and knowledge I can pass onto the community. I want to know how to best do that.”

The program has only just begun, but Carreon is excited for the year ahead. “I’m so looking forward to what this can do for us as a community,” she said.

 The Business District Leadership Program is funded by the Polks Bros. Foundation; the City of Chicago; PNC Bank; and Associated Bank. 

For more information about the BDL program contact Dionne Baux, / (312) 422-9564.


Posted in Economic Development


Stay up to date with the the latest news and events related to LISC Chicago.


About LISC Chicago

Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

More about LISC Chicago »
Contact our staff »