Business Resource Network Connects Dots

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — When KTSDI owner Ken Timmings embarked on a plan to expand his business, three elements were absolutely essential to achieving his growth goals. There was the “ingenuity in what we do,” he says, as well as luck. And the Business Resource Network played a vital role.

“The Business Resource Network opened a lot of doors and opportunities,” Timmings says.

Through the network, KTSDI worked with the Cleveland-based Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, or Magnet, to obtain ISO 9001:2005 certification.

The network, known as BRN, put KTSDI in touch with the Bureau of Workers Compensation, which came out to conduct a safety audit and later awarded the company a $40,000 grant to improve safety at its North Lima site.

BRN even helped KTSDI develop an on-the-job training program.

The company sells, designs and services industrial trailers and controls, including slag pot carriers for steel mills, specialized heavy load trailers and assemblies for NASA that enable its transporters to turn.

Launched in 2008, the network serves as a go-between for businesses and the agencies and organizations that can help solve any issues those businesses face.

Over the years, the Business Resource Network has put businesses with questions about EPA regulations in touch with congressional offices, brought together business owners with questions about traffic and the Ohio Department of Transportation, and helped owners such as Timmings bring in the BWC for safety audits.

“Sometimes it’s that they just don’t know where to go. It may be a workforce problem but they aren’t sure how to go through OhioMeansJobs,” says Bert Cene, director of the Workforce Development Board of Mahoning and Columbiana Counties. “Or maybe they want to do an expansion and need a low-interest loan. We can connect them with places like the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp.”

In total, the Business Resource Network has roughly 40 partners that range from Ohio Dominion Energy to area career and technical centers to Score to the cities of Youngstown and Warren to local chambers of commerce.

“It’s a single point of contact where we try to connect companies to workforce development, economic development, education and training. We really focus on small and medium-sized companies. It’s a proactive outreach tool,” says Matt Falter, BRN project director.

In 2012, the network was awarded a grant from the Department of Labor to expand its model into other workforce development regions in Ohio. Today, the Business Resource Network operates in five board regions, mostly in the northeastern part of the state. The grant also enabled the local BRN to hire account executives. They reached out to businesses and worked with them through a one-hour interview process.

Although the grant that funded those positions ended in 2016, the process remains in place, says Mary Ann Kochalko, chief operating officer of the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association.

“While you’re there on interviews, you have to read between the lines. Sometimes businesses have never thought about things like succession planning,” she says. “A lot of times, they don’t realize there are resources available to help them.”

After such interviews, BRN staff – the representative for Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties is Cyndy Resnahan – distill it and send proposals to the organization’s partners, with anyone who has potential solutions or can provide aid responding.

“Based on those responses, she’ll put together a proposal and the business has the opportunity to take advantage of everything or nothing,” Kochalko says. “It’s a menu of things. The time might be right for some of the things and others might be six months or a year down the road.”

During the grant period – July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2016 – the local BRN interviewed 286 businesses and completed proposals for all but four. The total value of the leveraged resources came to just more than $4 million.

The ultimate goal of the Business Resource Network, officials say, is to take some of the work off the hands of business leaders, much as they did for Timmings at KTSDI.

“If you were a business owner, president, CEO, executive, you might look for these opportunities if you have the spare time. But who has the time?” Timmings asks. “They bring that [information] to us without a lot of effort on our part. We would have spent days or weeks to try and uncover the basics. Instead of looking through the orchard, they brought the apples right in front of our nose.”

The next step for the BRN, says project director Falter, is to expand it. Through a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the organization is exploring how to introduce the structure to western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia. The model would include partners and workforce groups in 42 counties across the three states. Currently, the BRN model is used in 16 counties in Ohio.

And for businesses across those regions that will have access to BRN partners that will cover nearly every conceivable area of development, the Business Resource Network and the systems modeled on it will be invaluable, Timmings says.

“It’s a necessary tool in the arsenal of tools for companies to succeed,” he says.

“Every country, every state, has a program for their businesses. The question mark is if you’re willing to mine those programs and look for the treasure. … The network brings those treasures to the surface so we can mine quicker.”

Pictured at top: Matt Falter, BRN project director, says the network provides “a single point of contact.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.