By: Ahmad Graves-El
MILLVILLE, N.J. – There are numerous nonprofit organizations in Cumberland County created with the intent to help lift the community up from a seemingly deep-rooted financial and mental malaise. One of those organizations is the Creative Enterprise Center (CEC), an arm of Holly City Development Corporation (HCDC) in Millville.
SNJ Today had the opportunity to talk with Lisa Romano, manager of the CEC, in an attempt to learn about the Center and the positive programming that takes place within the building. Romano, prior to her position at the CEC, was assistant director of the Riverfront Renaissance Center for the Arts in Millville for about three years. She enthusiastically talked to us about cooperative workspaces, workshops, and plans to help bring the people of the community together in a positive manner.
• What is the Creative Enterprise Center?
The Creative Enterprise Center is a co-working [or cooperative] workspace. It is the first co-working space in Cumberland County. It’s a mixed-use facility. It’s 3,000 square feet. You can rent a desk for the month. You can come for the day and work, if you’d like. It’s perfect for an entrepreneur or someone who … works at home, or somebody [who has a ] start-up business that can’t afford a storefront. All your utilities are paid, you have your high-speed internet. You have all the coffee and snacks that you want. You get us!
• And who’s us?
Holly City Development Corporation and many people that come in, because there are collaborative partners. [The ability to] copy, fax, and scan all comes with your membership. Plus, there are private offices—they are presently rented—but they are only $230 a month. It’s pretty inexpensive to have a business [here]. And then we have a conference room space that we do rent out for $50 an hour. Also, with your membership, you get four hours free a month of conference room space. In our conference room, that’s where we have our business workshops. We’ve had quite a few. The one coming up is the first one that we’ve charged for, and that’s put on by the State UCEDC.
(The UCEDC, according to its website, is “a private, non-profit economic development corporation, dedicated to boosting local economies and strengthening communities through business development and job creation.”)
• What’s the name of the program put on by the State UCEDC that the CEC will be hosting?
Entrepreneurship 101. The first 10 Cumberland County residents that complete the course will get a $125 scholarship. (This six-week business course began on May 15 and takes place every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon through June 19).
• That’s a great idea and incentive for people who want to participate. Whose idea was it to give the scholarship?
Heather Santoro. She’s the executive director of Holly City Development Corporation. We’re committed to not only the residents of center city, but also the businesses downtown. We can see that High Street needs some help, so we’re hoping this can serve as a business incubator in a way or a business resource center. We’ve had credit repair workshops, we’ve had grow-your-own business workshops. We did an Ask the Expert series where we brought in a banker [and] we brought in an attorney … [and] they were all free. We had a four-part marketing seminar that was free and we plan to do more free programming. And, like I said, the [Entrepreneurship 101] is the first one that we’ve had to charge for, but we’re trying to help minimize some of the cost by offering the scholarships. And, if you intend on opening a business in center city, or you have a business in center city, you could be eligible for a microloan.
• How much would the microloan be?
[About] $2,500. They can use it for whatever they need it for like rent, marketing materials, equipment, [etc.].
• What year did the CEC come into existence?
• On CEC’s website, it says it offers membership options to meet any needs. How does one become a member and how will you address that member’s needs?
Meeting the needs would be you can come for the day and work. So, if you’re traveling and you just need to pop in for the day, it’s a $25 fee. We also have free-day passes [if] somebody wants to come try it out. Or $175 a month and we don’t make you sign a long contract. You can pay $150 a month and we have lockers and you can just come and work whenever you want. We are open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The private offices have their own private entrances … they can come whenever they need to. As far as the conference room, if you needed it on the weekend or at night, we can accommodate that.
Romano says there’s a lot of brainstorming, thought-provoking, friendly conversations that occur between people who frequent the CEC: “We’ll start to talk to each other and it’s kind of like a family feeling.”
• Can anyone be a member?
Yes, [but you must be] 18 or older.
What’s the goal of the Center? To be a business resource center in downtown Millville, to help businesses in Cumberland County, and also for it to be a consistent revenue stream for Holly City Development.
• Do you feel like this Center is going to be a success?
I think it is. It’s been a little slow starting, [but] we’ve finally got the programming going.
• Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to [talk] about all the good work Holly City Development does. For the past year, we’ve been working on a neighborhood plan and we just submitted it to the Wells Fargo Foundation. We’ve been working with an urban planner from Philadelphia, Interface Studios. We’ve conducted 188 resident surveys, door-to-door, asking people what they want in their community.
• What do the residents want?
They want a safe place for their children to play and live. They want security. Out of [the surveys] we are now working with community focus groups, action groups, the first one being Shine Ministries. It is a faith-based children’s program after school. And there is a group of teens that are phenomenal. They are our first community action group. And out of the surveying, they pick their top three favorites. Number one being the library expansion. Number two, they want to expand PlayStreets — that’s our [Holly City] initiative. And they want to have free, family fun events. So, we’re going to start the Little Library program and we’re hoping to put in a native garden on 3rd Street. We helped fund the garden with CU Maurice River. We want to bring the library into the neighborhood.
The bigger vision I have is I would love to find a mentor in the neighborhood that has construction or carpentry skills and can teach the kids how to build them. Maybe have some contests on designs to make it fun. [Hopefully], we can get PAL officers to help the kids learn how to build. So, not only are you doing something for the library, you’re also learning a skill.
• What is the mission of Holly City Development Corporation?
Sustainability and economic and community development for center city. [One] of our projects [was] the mural on High and Broad. We helped with the Innovation Center. We do housing rehab. We also have another arm; we work with Connecting Families to Communities. We guide them towards resources. We help families identify goals and work with them to match those goals. We do a lot of community outreach [because] we love the kids and we love the community.