City Council to Consider Development Plan Contract, Grant Fund

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – City Council will consider ordinances to contract with a Columbus firm to help draft an economic development action plan and to provide funding for a new small-business grant program.

The two items are on the agenda for Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

One proposes hiring Montrose Group LLC “to provide economic development support in analyzing and assessing existing data, sites and business opportunities as well as creating an economic development strategy and template” with business owners and other city stakeholders to design the economic development action plan for Youngstown.  

Stephanie Gilchrist, who was hired last July as the city’s economic development director, said she saw a need for the city to “have a strategy as we move forward” with defined benchmarks, milestones and goals. Once approved by City Council and the Board of Control, the process should take about six months.

The scope of services included in the council legislation outlines several steps to be taken through August, including identifying business leaders and stakeholders; conducting a baseline assessment of existing data and plans; analyzing local workforce and development/redevelopment sites; and facilitating both one-on-one interviews and focus group sessions with stakeholders. The proposed timeline calls for the economic development action plan to be released Aug. 24.

The second item up for council members’ consideration is a request to allocate $200,000 to establish a small-business boost program that would provide grants of up to $10,000 to assist small businesses in the city.

“We get the demand is out there,” Gilchrist said. She views it as a successor of sorts to the long-dormant Youngstown Initiative program, a partnership between the city, U.S. Small Business Administration and area banks to provide forgivable loans to businesses.

The city identified the need for such a program as it assisted businesses through the microenterprise program funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security – or Cares – Act through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Many businesses were ineligible for assistance by the microenterprise fund because of restrictions governing the federal funds, said Carmella Williams, microenterprise grant program director. Williams also is executive director of Intentional Development Group, a nonprofit group.  

Businesses had to be operating before 2020, for example, and largely couldn’t use the funds to purchase equipment unless it was personal protective equipment, Gilchrist said. They also had to demonstrate they experienced a loss in revenue.

“We knew there were a lot of small businesses out there who still needed support,” Williams said. “This was an opportunity to use less-restricted funds to help those who otherwise might not have been eligible or did not get any type of significant amount of funds.”

The tentative launch date for the program is April 15, contingent on council and Board of Control approval. “We have this structure in place already,” she said.

Gilchrist was encouraged that during a recent meeting of the community planning and economic development committee, council members expressed support for providing more money for the program.  

“So we’ll look into that in the future, but we’re really trying to just invest back into our community, in small businesses to help them where we can because we know a lot are still suffering,” she said.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.