Economic Development

YBI Opens Minority Business Assistance Center

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A reinvigorated local chapter of the state of Ohio’s Minority Business Assistance Center is officially, as of Thursday, in business itself.

Local and state officials joined representatives of the Youngstown Business Incubator and the Warren-based Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center at YBI offices downtown to introduce the program and a new partnership with the incubator.

“This was a natural evolution for us,” said Barb Ewing, CEO of the YBI. The minority-business programs now are hosted at the incubator offices and TBEIC staffs a satellite office in downtown Warren.

The objective is to provide resources to minority-owned and economically disadvantaged businesses through the Minority Business Access Center, an initiative that not only helps early-stage companies, but those as well that might need help accelerating or fine-tuning their businesses.

“We’re excited to bring the Youngstown Business Incubator into our family of host organizations,” said Jeffrey Johnson, chief of the Minority Business Development Division at the Ohio Development Services Agency. “We’re here to help you develop your business.”

The agency provides resources for minority-owned companies that are geared to help sustain their businesses in the long run. “We’ve got resources within our division,” Johnson said, “and outside of our division at the Development Services Agency are resources for our partners, so we want to make sure we make those available.”

Johnson said Gov. John Kasich’s administration has achieved benchmarks set forth in Ohio law that held that the state would purchase at least 15% of services or products it uses from minority vendors. “We’re very proud of that and we want to keep that momentum going,” he said. “Our centers provide the technical assistance as well as the business development tools to help our businesses grow and participate in a strong Ohio economy.”

Although one objective of the business center is to better prepare minority-owned businesses to bid on and win state contracts, it is also designed to help minority-owned companies develop relationships with county and city governments as well as the private sector, Johnson said. “We try to be more holistic in our approach,” he said. “We’re also talking about private-sector business opportunities as well.”

The assistance center will begin offering classes the first Wednesday in February, added Carmella Williams, director of the Youngstown MBAC. It will offer a four-week course designed to help potential entrepreneurs develop their ideas, while a second-stage, nine-week course is geared to help existing companies with their business plans, marketing, analyze their cash flow and other financial matters.

A third four-week course is designed for companies that might need additional help and resources with financing, access to capital or strategies on how to expand, Williams said. “Our main goal is to grow capacity,” she said.

Ewing said that the assistance center fits with the expanding mission of the YBI and credited the incubator board of directors for having the vision to encompass programs she anticipates will have a wider impact in the community.

Over the last two years, incubator board Chairman James Dascenzo said, it has diversified its footprint to include a new building dedicated to additive-manufacturing interests and new programs such as the Women in Entrepreneurship initiative.

“That was the stepping stone that led to our involvement with the Minority Business Assistance Center,” he said

Through the center, Ewing said, the organization would provide existing businesses with the resources they need to build their customer bases and companies. “A big part of our work is doing training with existing businesses, trying to help them secure loans, get government contracts, get through the certification programs,” she said, so they could grow.

“This is about growing businesses of all sizes and scales,” Ewing said.

A satellite office in Warren at TBEIC underscores the continued cooperation toward economic development between the two cities, said Rick Stockburger, TBEIC chief operating officer.

“This tells you that this is important – that we’re doing something that is changing the fabric of the Valley,” he said. “Anytime TBEIC And YBI have the opportunity to work together on something, we need to jump on that opportunity.”

Jamael Tito Brown, sworn in as mayor on Saturday, said that it’s his duty to make the community aware of the services the assistance center provides. “It’s encouraging that we have another partner,” he said. “My job is to bring people to the table – residents who want to grow their businesses and bring business back to the city of Youngstown.”

Pictured above: Rick Stockburger, chief operating officer, Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center; Jeffrey Johnson, chief, Minority Business Development Division; Vernard Richberg, MBAC business counselor; Monica Womack, manager, MBAC; Barb Ewing, CEO, Youngstown Business Incubator; Carmella Williams, director, YBI office of MBAC.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.