Economic Development

Business Networks Connect Companies with Resources

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It’s been four years since the Business Resource Network first contacted KTSDI LLC and the relationship is still paying dividends for the North Lima company.

Since that contact, the network has connected the company, which manufactures components for off-road vehicles, with grants, training program assistance and “so many things I can’t remember,” reflects manager Ken Timmings.

“I can’t say enough good things,” he remarks, noting he talks to representatives of the BRN monthly.

Because businesses often require more than one type of assistance, sometimes from multiple agencies, regional networks such as BRN have formed to provide a single point of contact for resources including financing, job-training programs and site searches.

“It’s basically acting as a one-stop source for local business,” says Gene Babik, manager for the first Business Resource Network, which was launched in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in 2008. In the time since, three similar networks now operate in the nine surrounding Ohio counties and another in the southern portion of the state.

Locally, the Business Resource Network connects some 40 public and private agencies, including workforce and economic development organizations, career and technical centers, universities, and state and local government agencies.

“Basically all of them have some kind of business service,” Babik says. “BRN acts as a one-source stop to access all of those services through us.”

Using a grant received in 2012 – one of only 26 awarded throughout the United States – the Business Resource Network has “dedicated personnel” going into the community and seeking interviews at area businesses to see what kinds of challenges those companies have, Babik says.

Those interviews are then analyzed, the main problems encountered by businesses are identified and the information is sent to the network’s partners, who then respond with whatever programs they might have to help clients.

“Once we get responses back from our partners, a proposal is put together for the client to see,” Babik says. BRN representatives sit down with clients and discuss their goals and what services are available to help achieve those objectives.

“This could be anything from they may need help with their website, they need funding for an expansion, they may need help finding personnel,” he continues. “It’s sort of a wide spectrum that we help them with.”

The Business Resource Network has conducted about 250 interviews in the tri-county area over the past three years and written nearly as many proposals, Babik estimates.

“It’s been very good here,” he remarks. “There’s a lot of operation, a lot of collaboration. We have monthly round-table meetings where we have probably 30 to 35 partners in attendance so it’s a very united and cooperative effort here.”

Along with KTSDI, other companies have benefited from the network.

BRN’s efforts include Salem companies Ort Furniture, which received a safety grant from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, and Barclay Rolls, which expanded its overseas markets with assistance from the International Trade Assistance Center.

In Pennsylvania, the Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance serve a similar role. The Oil City-based Northwest Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission – typically referred to as the Northwest Commission – coordinates PREP Northwest, which serves the eight-county region that includes Lawrence and Mercer counties.

Among the agencies PREP Northwest brings together are Lawrence County Economic Development Corp. in New Castle, Penn-Northwest Development Corp. in Mercer, Pennsylvania CareerLink offices in Mercer and Lawrence counties, and West Central Job Partnership in New Castle.

“It’s a referral network. It’s a system of partners,” says David Zellers Jr., economic development manager for the Northwest Commission. The program is intended to make economic development services efficient and effective.

“The approach is there is no wrong door,” Zellers says. Like the networks in Ohio, entities involved with PREP Northwest refer information from businesses to the various partners to determine what assistance might be available to address the companies’ issues, then bring that information back to the companies to decide whether to move forward.

Companies assisted by PREP Northwest include Medart Inc. in Ellwood City, Pa., which serves the metal-processing industry, and Canada-based Ezeflow Group’s Flowline division, which produces pipe fittings and forgings at its New Castle, Pa., plant, reports Linda Nitch, executive director of the Lawrence County Economic Development Corp.

A business could end up receiving assistance from three or four partners depending on its needs, Zellers says.

“It’s an exceptionally strong partnership,” he remarks. “It’s an efficient investment of resources in economic development. We don’t duplicate each other’s services.”

In addition, the partnership also helps businesses avoid having to “chase somebody down” by making sure they will be contacted by the agencies offering assistance, Zellers says.

“The worst thing you can do is hand a business owner a list of phone numbers,” he says.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.