Seminar Provides Guidance for Minority Entrepreneurs

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Claire Hawkins of Liberty started TCT Transportation Co. about a year and a half ago because she was tired of working for other people.

She also wanted to leave something for her sons, Tyler and Tylan, ages 10 and 12.

“I wanted them to know what it’s like to work for themselves,” Hawkins says.

TCT, named from the first initials of Hawkins’ and her sons’ first names, transports senior citizens and disabled people to doctors offices, physical therapy and other appointments.

“I want my kids to know there’s a better life …,” Hawkins says, adding that she has a passion for helping elderly people.

Her parents died within a month of each other in 2020 and her mother had been on dialysis and needed someone to transport her to appointments. That’s when Hawkins realized there was a need in the community for transportation services and that it was something she could provide.

When she decided to start her own business, Hawkins first searched the internet for “how to start a business” to learn the initial steps. She found the Youngstown Business Incubator and its Minority Business Assistance Center, which helped her form a limited liability company.

Then she got help from librarians at the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County and learned how to get approval to be paid through Medicaid.

Hawkins is now working with Valley Economic Development Partners and learning about the assistance available through that agency.

She was one of seven current or aspiring entrepreneurs who attended an Oct. 10 session on Minority Business Banking presented by the YBI Minority Business Assistance Center, Valley Partners and PNC Bank at the main branch of the library. It was the first in a series aimed at educating women and minority entrepreneurs about the benefits of banking and the resources available.

Tanay Hill, business resource adviser, and Matthew Longmire, business resource manager, at Valley Partners, told those at the meeting about the programs and services available through their agency.

Valley Partners is a Tier 1 MBAC provider, meaning it primarily helps start-up companies or those that are no more than two years old.

“We assist with business planning,” Hill says. “We assist with projection. We assist them through the application process, making sure their funding package is ready to go to the credit department if they’re ready to go for funding.”

The Youngstown Business Incubator MBAC is Tier 2. It does more of the strategic planning for businesses that are two or more years old. Those businesses may already have business plans. The YBI center also assists with certification from the state and helps with government contracts.

“The area that we’re in is economically disadvantaged,” Hill says.

MBAC operates in seven counties, including Mahoning and Trumbull.

“They’re in areas where the resources aren’t necessarily available to [minorities and women],” Hills says. “Credit might be an issue. The goal is to put them in a position where they can receive equity with everybody else.”

In recent months, the agency has seen people who wanted to start daycare centers, hair salons, restaurants and home health care services. Not everyone’s idea is a good one though, and Hill says one of the most difficult things is telling someone that their business idea isn’t viable.

She tries to help them determine that for themselves by asking questions and encouraging them to do research.

Longmire points out that Valley Partners is a Community Development Financial Institution. CDFIs promote economic revitalization in distressed communities.

“We became CDFI certified on Oct. 30, 2020,” he says. “There are many benefits of partnering with us in working with other banks. It gives that bank [Community Reinvestment Act] credit. It helps the clients prepare the loan packages and stuff like that.”

Longmire says Valley Partners has 17 loan programs available to its clients. They include local programs such as the Youngstown and Warren Revolving Loan programs as well as a variety of loans from the Small Business Administration. There’s also grants that help to pay for accounting and legal services, the Valley Partners officers say.

Both YBI and Valley Partners offer assistance free of charge, but they don’t do the work, says Tanisha Wheeler, YBI Minority Business Assistance Center regional director. Clients – the entrepreneurs – must do that themselves.

PNC’s Daniel Roberson, vice president and community development officer in Cleveland, and Dalen Mays, vice president of a branch in Wintersville, Ohio, told meeting attendees that they want to be a resource to help as they’re planning their businesses.

Roberson says PNC advocates for minority business owners and has a minority business certification.

“We have a thing within PNC where we’re advocating to make sure all of our employees take certification classes on minority business owners to know what the challenges are, what  the opportunities are and how best can we help support minority businesses,” he says.

When Mays started in banking, he noticed there wasn’t much minority representation.

“There was not a lot of opportunity for someone to come into a bank and see someone who not only looks like them but who can empathize with their surroundings, with their background, with the specific challenges they face,” he says.

PNC, however, provided Mays an opportunity to connect people with banking who typically weren’t connected to it.

Gary Reynolds started his business, Renn Logistics, a freight logistics company in Youngstown, in May and attended the Oct. 10 meeting to learn about programs that may be available.“I like to absorb information. So I came here to pick up anything that can help me grow or further my business,” he says.

Hawkins, the transportation company owner, acknowledges that starting and operating a business is hard work and she got frustrated sometimes. But she knew she couldn’t quit because of her children.

“It feels better when you work for something than if someone hands it to you,” Hawkins says. “I earned that. I worked for that. I made my legacy.”

She’s proud of how far she’s come. She searches the Internet for her name “and I can see, it says TCT Transportation and just knowing that’s me and I started from the bottom,” Hawkins says.