On the third floor of Hammond’s City Hall is the office of Economic Development. The floors are hard and shiny, and the hardwood and glass panel door opens to a small office. There is a coffee maker, and an empty whiteboard. Photos of children line the desk and a small window looks out over the rooftops of the city. The nameplate on the desk reads, “Africa K. Tarver – Director of Economic Development.”
A newspaper clipping, yellowed with age and taped to the cabinets above the desk, features the headline, "My First Job Was as a Movie Theater Cashier.”
“That’s true,” says Tarver. "My first ever job was actually as a candy striper at St Margaret’s Hospital, but my first paying job was as a cashier at River Run theaters in Lansing, Illinois.”
A proud lifetime Hammond resident, Tarver graduated Hammond High School, before going on to attend Calumet College of St. Joseph, where she earned a degree in organizational management. Tarver has worked for City of Hammond since 2001. Previously, she worked for Mercantile and Citizens’ Banks.
So, how does one go from working as a cashier to being Director of Economic Development for one of the largest cities in Indiana? Tarver credits hard work and networking.
“A lot of the principles that you learn early on in your work career, you will carry them throughout your life, and they will help you to be successful. You have to learn certain responsibilities and ethics then, and you keep them and apply them as you grow.”
“I don’t really have much spare time,” says Tarver with a laugh. “But I do volunteer efforts, cultural events.”
She keeps fit, and enjoys running.
“I really like doing 5K runs,” she says.
Tarver is responsible for overseeing the growth of economic opportunities for businesses in Hammond, and credits her successes to a three-sided method.
“Business retention, business attraction and business expansion,” says Tarver. “I work with organizations, with local chambers of commerce, with business associations and others. When we see a business that we think would be a good fit for the city, we actively market to them to bring that business here.”
Tarver stresses the importance of building relationships in being successful to bringing business to Hammond, and is proud of the relationships she has built with local developers and real estate professionals.
“People in industry come to us directly. They are looking at a number of factors when deciding where to start or expand their companies. Quality of life, median income, expendable income base – those things and others are all factors. They often prefer to go through a broker. So growing relationships with those businesses is imperative.”
Tarver has found also that those business relationships can take on a life of their own, and that business owners who have found a home here in Northwest Indiana will often advocate to other business owners in neighboring states, explaining to them the benefits of the region and how to take advantage of everything that Hammond has to offer.
“There are small successes every day. When a company is considering making a move out of the area, and I am able to convince them to stay, for example. Or when companies are looking to grow, or they’re looking for people to fill positions and we can liaison with WorkOne to get those needs filled, those are the small day-to-day successes that I feel are the most rewarding,” Tarver told Ideas In Motion Media.
She is especially proud of Oxbow Landing, located on Kennedy Avenue near I-94, in an area which has seen phenomenal growth over the last few years, and currently features several restaurants, hotels, breweries, business offices and art galleries.
“We are doing a lot to build and maintain the quality of life for our residents. We are working not only to attract the Millennials and the younger generation here to the area, but we are careful also to work toward providing recreation and opportunities to existing residents,” says Tarver.
Looking to the future, Tarver sees a conservative, sustainable and stable growth-oriented plan for the city.
“In the coming years, I think that you’re going to see more of what we already have; more community development, a better quality of life, and expanded housing options. Hammond will continue to become an attractive option for people who work in Chicago, but who are looking for more affordable housing options and are looking toward Hammond and northwest Indiana to provide those opportunities.”
If you are a business owner, and would like to learn more about the advantages that the city of Hammond offers, you can visit their website, http://www.gohammond.com/departments/planning-and-development/economic-development/, or call 219-853-6508.