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Nine new entrepreneurs graduated from the Gary Micro-Enterprise Initiative, an incubator aimed at fostering more small business formation in the Steel City.

Prospective business owners completed eight weeks of start-up training at Arthouse: A Social Kitchen at 411 E. 5th Ave. across from the U.S. Steel Yard in downtown Gary.  They learned about business structures, business plans, start-up costs, record-keeping, marketing and social media promotion.

"The Micro-Enterprise Initiative is getting residents to think about starting businesses, whether in the retail trade, real estate businesses or culinary businesses," Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said. "We see a lot of success with homegrown businesses that employ local people."

It was the second graduating class of the Gary Micro-Enterprise Initiative, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Commerce with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Division. This time, nine of the 16 initial participants made it through the course.

The initiative is one strategy the city is pursuing to address blight, persistently high unemployment and food deserts that have stripped many of its residents of basic amenities that are taken for granted in other communities. Gary had suffered from as many as 6,800 vacant buildings, and many of its 76,000 residents do not live close to fresh food stores or pharmacies.

So far, the program has more than 20 graduates and has trained owners of successful businesses like Foody's Restaurant in Midtown, which is already planning a significant expansion after a year in operation.

"The goal of GMI is to provide a road map for Gary residents as they journey toward business ownership," the city said in a press release. "GMI provides instruction and direction and works with students through challenges and in business planning."

A third cohort will start in May, and the city is taking applications.

For more information, contact program manager Diana Sandlin at 219-881-1312.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.