Youngstown Hosts First Business Solutions Summit

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Those looking to expand, start or relocate a business in the city are likely unaware of how to navigate the layers of resources and regulations that might face them as they move forward.

Providing a forum to answer some of these questions was the impetus behind the city’s first Business Solutions Summit on Wednesday at the Ohev Beth Shalom temple on Elm Street.

About 100 guests attended the event, which featured presentations from private development partners, small businesses, planning and zoning specialists and representatives from the city’s economic and community development department.

“The goal is to help those who want to do business in the city of Youngstown,” Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said. “We want to remove the bureaucratic tape or figure out what the process is.”

Often, interested investors purchase property for business purposes without understanding zoning ordinances, available grant programs or the permitting process, he noted. Brown said the city wants to make businesses aware of these issues before they make their move.

“Before you buy a building, before you buy a property, stop by and ask what’s available – not just at the city level, but also county and state level as well,” he said. “It’s not a hard sell in the city of Youngstown. It’s just a matter of finding a location and finding what industry or niche is there.”

It’s especially important for those already operating in the city that they have the proper guidance and resources to expand their business, Brown said.  “We want to make sure they understand how to grow.”

Mitchell Cohn, owner of Edward’s Flowers at 911 Elm St., said he’s interested in expanding his florist shop and wanted to learn about the city’s façade grant programs and other financial incentives he could leverage.

“We’ve been here since Nov. 1, 1947,” Cohn said. “We just celebrated our 75th anniversary.”

He said events such as the business summit help, and the North Side neighborhood where his florist is located has enjoyed a small renaissance over the past several years. “We’re able to stay competitive being in a lower income area and still provide customers with what they want.”

Businesses across the city have all overcome challenges unique to them, evidenced by a panel of small business owners who participated in the summit and shared their experiences.  

Alex Zordich, for example, told attendees that he had decided to relocate from California’s wine country to Youngstown. He found an old house in Smoky Hollow where his family first settled, purchased it, and had plans to start a restaurant.

However, the process was not easy, he recalled. Especially cumbersome was the process of rezoning his property to fit his business purposes. That took a year and a half, he noted, and he didn’t realize it would take so long.

In the meantime, he set up his new business – Yosteria – in Cornersburg until his zoning was approved.  

“It was OK, but it wasn’t why I moved back to Youngstown,” he said, noting he wanted to be near the central business district in a historic neighborhood.

Despite the setbacks, Zordich said city officials were helpful as soon as he opened Yosteria in Smoky Hollow in 2021.  

“I was able to get a façade grant through the city,” he said. “I was introduced to Valley Partners,” an economic development agency that specializes in financing small businesses. “Without Valley Partners, without the façade grant, without the city, my business would not be able to grow. We’re excited about that growth.”

Local developer and contractor Brian Angelili, owner of Greenheart Companies, said that he’s worked in the city for years on major projects such as the DoubleTree hotel and Wick Towers. While engaged in this work, the developer took note of how downtown was changing and decided he wanted to be a part of its transformation.

Angelilli said he used traditional financing for his current projects and has not asked for any financial assistance from the city. The most visible project is the renovation of the Gallagher building downtown. “I believed enough in the city to do that. With any development, there’s risk,” he said.

The Gallagher building is now transformed into market apartments with smaller suites and will open this month, Angelilli said. Much of the work has been challenging because of the age of the building, he noted.

George Williams, who owns Goldie’s Flowers on Belmont Avenue, has seen the city undergo seismic changes over the past several decades. His parents established the shop in 1952, and Williams left a corporate job to run the business.

“The city helped me survive,” he said. “They were my customers.” Belmont Avenue at one time was a bustling corridor anchored by three major hospitals in the city – St. Elizabeth Hospital, Northside Hospital and Southside Hospital – that helped drive his business.  

“I want Belmont to thrive again,” he said. Today, the city has engaged Williams and other stakeholders in the area to help develop ideas to revitalize the thoroughfare.

“I don’t have the answer, but I’m on board for whatever we would like to develop,” he said.

A critical step in starting a successful business is to have good mentors. Also, be prepared to retain a reliable accountant and lawyer. “You don’t have a clue what they’re going to throw at you,” he said, referring to obtaining a first business loan.

Nikki Posterli, the mayor’s chief of staff and director of community, planning and economic development, said the summit Wednesday was a way to glean feedback from business owners about what the city is doing right and what it needs to do to improve.

“There are some bottlenecks in our services, and we just want to see how we can do better if we bring all the partners to the table,” she said. “A lot of times, they’re bouncing from one partner to the next,” she said.

She stressed the idea of showing business owners the value of partnerships with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, the Western Reserve Port Authority, the Youngstown Business Incubator, area banks and Valley Partners.

“We want to make sure that we are building together,” Posterli said. “We’d like to be a resource hub. We want to find out what the businesses need so we can work toward building a better partnership for our business community.”

Pictured at top: Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and Tracey Winbush, right.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.