Appalachian Commission Funds Will Help ‘Elevate Every Entrepreneur’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A $1.35 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission will help the Youngstown Business Incubator better fulfill its mission to “elevate every entrepreneur,” YBI CEO Barb Ewing said.

YBI was among the recipients of nearly $21 million in grants from ARC’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization – or Power – initiative, which targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations and coal-related supply chain industries.

The grants were announced Thursday morning at America Makes, a YBI tenant.

The Power program was created to address the decline of the coal industry, which devastated communities, Gayle Manchin, federal ARC co-chairwoman, said during an interview following the news conference. As people talked about “dirty energy,” the stigma that came with it was attached to the people who worked in the coal industry, she said.

“People lost hope. There was no sense of purpose,” Manchin said. “Part of the reason for the Power grants was to wake people up and say we can diversify, there are ways that we can bring back the economy.

“The people in these regions are strong, work hard and have job skills that can be repurposed into other industries,” she said.

The grant to YBI will support the Lake to River Small Business Success project, which will allow the incubator and its partners to expand their work with small to medium-sized enterprises in a seven-county region. Over the three-year grant period, a projected 1,444 businesses will be improved, 2,515 businesses served, 240 jobs created, 300 new businesses created and $7.5 million leveraged in private investment, according to an ARC award summaries handout.

“This funding will really allow us to achieve our mission, our vision of elevating every entrepreneur,” Ewing said. “We will be able to support startups in traditional businesses, not just those owned by women and minorities and veterans.

The funds will allow for the hiring of two additional business counselors at the YBI.

“Our plan is to put a counselor up north and another counselor down south, so that we’re really meeting the obligations of the entire region,” Ewing said.

“The numbers that we’ll be able to serve now will increase, and that will be without the struggle of just three people doing it. Now, we’ll have a couple more people to help us out,” said Stephanie Gilchrist, director of the Minority Business Assistance Center at YBI. “It’s huge, instrumental and will definitely make an impact in our community and beyond.”

In addition, the funds will allow YBI to develop programs to support supply chain diversification and get anchor institutions to think about how they can support small businesses by purchasing from them.

“That is the single most important thing that you can do for small business,” Gilchrist said.

Using the funding, YBI will help businesses access capital, pursue procurement opportunities, develop business plans, adopt advanced technologies and support startup formation. The program will also provide access to business counseling, grant writing, technology enabling counseling, technical assistance workshops and boot camps, counseling for advanced manufacturing projects, and supply chain diversity.

“Your work is critical to the future competitiveness of Youngstown and the state of the Appalachian region,” said Alejandro Castillo, U.S. Economic Development Administration assistant secretary.

The kind of investment announced Thursday “helps build capacity” by assisting business incubators and minority-owned businesses, but also by assisting companies with their workforce development programs, she said.

The funds aren’t meant to be used as a “Band-Aid approach” to addressing communities’ needs but rather for them to make “truly transformational investments, dream big” and consider where they want the country to be 25 or even 50 years from now, Castillo said. “This room in particular has the architects” who are not just going to create the blueprint but will be the builders.

John Carey, director of the Ohio Governor’s Office of Appalachia, said that during Gov. Mike DeWine’s term as ARC co-chairman in 2020, he learned that ARC was very “results oriented” and operates on a bipartisan basis.

“It’s really about serving people on the ground,” he said.

Following the grant announcement, Manchin led a roundtable of current and former Power grant recipients, including Ewing, as well as Castillo, Carey and Briggs White, deputy director of the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization.

EDA is just one of several bureaus and offices within the Department of Commerce – which includes the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Federal Communications Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office – that can have an impact on economic development.

“Economic development is not linear. It’s very complex,” EDA’s Castillo said. To ensure economic growth is more long term, there needs to be more strategic planning and greater collaboration. For example, as electric-vehicle technology is adopted, charging stations need to be incorporated into economic development strategies, she said.

She also took note of the money spent in the 300 federal laboratories.

“We spend all this money, but this technology sits in our labs. We have a challenge that we have to solve, which is take that technology and unleash it to entrepreneurs so that we can commercialize it,” she said.

Roundtable participants pointed to several needs and priorities in the communities they serve, including broadband access, infrastructure and workforce development.

They also identified opportunities that have emerged for them. Tourism is now the third largest industry in Kentucky, said Tammie Nazario, director of the Kentucky Wildlands Regional Tourism Initiative, which received $1.2 million Wednesday.

“A lot of people do not believe that tourism is economic development,” she remarked.

Having leadership provided by anchor institutions in a community is important but cost sharing “tends to be a huge challenge,” White said.

Community colleges are uniquely positioned not only because of their flexibility but also as gateways to other secondary opportunities, said Betsy McIntyre, director of the Tri-State Energy and Advanced Manufacturing Consortium at Westmoreland Community College in Pennsylvania. The consortium received $699,625 Thursday.

“They’ve gotten very, very flexible in their programming,” she said.

Castillo stressed that workforce development needs to be designed for today’s needs so participants know they have a “high-paying job” available to them once the training is completed. Additionally, there needs to be a focus on entrepreneurship opportunities, such as those provided by the federal infrastructure bill and connecting those opportunities to underrepresented communities.

“Small business is still the backbone of the country,” YBI’s Ewing said. “The pandemic changed the world as we know it but it didn’t change that.”

Deborah Prosser, director of business development at the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission, pointed to a societal barrier that prevents young people from starting their own businesses after college.

“They have so much student debt they can’t afford to be an entrepreneur,” she said. Her organization received $509,948 to develop an e-commerce marketplace for startups.

Involving economic development organizations and leaders at the local level also is important when forming strategies, the participants said.

The work of the YBI-led initiative’s aligns “very well” with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s “overall strategy to weave diversity, equity and inclusion in our objective so we can better serve the minority women and veteran owned businesses in the market,” said Sarah Boyarko, chief operating officer.

“Overall, our community has seen for way too long disparities – wide disparities – in educational attainment, health outcomes [and] income level, and I think that this work will help to close those gaps,” she added.

YBI’s partners in the initiative also welcomed the support.

Brite Energy Innovators in Warren hosts an office of the minority business assistance center based at YBI. “This effort will go directly to being able to help that and serve more entrepreneurs, so we’re really excited to be able to utilize our facility and push this initiative forward,” said Rick Stockburger, Brite president and CEO.

Julie Needs, executive director of the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center in Salem, said the grant will allow the center to build new training programs connect with entrepreneurs, including in its immigrant population.

“We have a large Guatemalan population, and this is going to help us do some more outreach and bring some tools to more of our minorities within the region … to help them become business owners or entrepreneurs or advance in their careers,” she said.

Pictured: Among Thursday’s panelists were Barb Ewing, John Carey, Gayle Manchin, Alejandra Castillo, Briggs White.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.