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"Rebuilding our Inner City"
by Christopher Johnston
Published in The Empowerment Zone

As the most recent hire at Acme Express, software developers and internet suppliers on Prospect Avenue in the MidTown Corridor, William Gray takes pride in being an Empowerment Zone success story. "Actually its excellent," he says.

In the summer of 1996, Gary had returned to civilian life in Cleveland after completing an overseas tour as a computer specialist in the U.S. Army. Here, however, he found that with out a car, there were "transportation restrictions to some of the better technical jobs," which were now predominantly located in the outer suburbs. Soon, he was toiling on the night shift at a fast food restaurant. "You've got to survive," he reasons.

In search of a job more befitting his skills, he turn to Veterans Administration. He tried employment agencies and placement consultants. He even temporarily moved to New Jersey. Finally he applied for assistances from the Jobs for Clevelanders program, and in march of this year, he began his six-month subsidized training period as a network engineer and the first Empowerment Zone resident hired at Acme.

"I was fortunate that I did turn to the city for job placement assistance," Gary says. "They did an excellent job of matching my skills (with an existing position)."

Gary's boss, Don Scipione, is equally pleased about the match-up. "This program pays half his salary during his training, so we can afford to train him'" says the president of the ten person firm. "And when he is finished, he will probably have a career - and a good salary - for the rest of his life." In business since 1980, Acme recently moved into its new building near East 38th Street on Prospect with the help of HUD Section 108 loan from the Empowerment Zone funds. "I never would have been able to buy a building with out it, and its going to result in jobs," Scipione says.

"From the beginning, I have tried to focus the Empowerment Zone on job creation," says Cleveland Major Michael R. White. "We want to create firm economic foundations in the zone, and transform those foundations into jobs for our citizens."

Acme represents just one of many small businesses answering the mayor's call for jobs creation. Acme and other businesses have received more then $13.5 million of loan money since August 1995, when President Bill Clinton named Cleveland the site of a supplemental Empowerment Zone. Several area institutions - including the Gund Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, Neighborhood Progress Inc. and Greater Cleveland Growth Association, which spearheaded the effort - and a host of individuals had a hand in the extensive application process that built on the many programs of urban redevelopment already underway throughout the city. With the Empowerment Zone designation close to $177 million in federal support will flow into the contiguous inner-city neighborhoods of Hough, Fairfax, Glenville, and MidTown Corridor over a ten year period.

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