City Council Holds Small & Minority Business Development Committee Hearing

On Thursday, July 9, Columbus City Council held a hearing to discuss resources available for small and minority businesses in Columbus. Choosing a small businesses as the location, city council members and resource providers gathered at the Roosevelt Coffee house at 300 E. Long St.

Councilmember Shannon Hardin, Chair of the Small & Minority Business Development Committee, led the hearing, and was joined by City Council President Andrew Ginther, and Councilmembers Jaiza Page and Priscilla Tyson.

Hardin began by discussing two city council sponsored initiatives to support small businesses.

Councilmember Eileen Paley sponsored a $25,000 ordinance that allows certain small business owners to participate in the Citywide Training & Development courses. The courses cover basics like how to use Word and Excel and other professional development topics.

The council also provides funding for the Minority Business Enterprise Academy through the Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council. The eight-class program helps businesses achieve MBE certification.

“The first class that we held in 2013, their statistics now are 32 newly hired employees, and they hit a mark of $13 million in increased revenue,” Councilmember Tyson notes.

Next, Melinda Carter, Director of the Equal Business Opportunity Office, shared details regarding her department.

“One of our most critical functions is to certify businesses as minority- and female-owned,” Carter says. “Typically we work with businesses who are looking to work with the city.”

The certification can help secure contracts with the city and other entities. Once identified, the office also tries to connect businesses with opportunities.

Carter shared how the city is currently utilizing female- and minority-owned businesses.

“Our utilization rate is about 8.2 percent overall, which we would like to do better,…and it some areas, particularly the professional services arena, we have been hitting historical highs for the past few years. We’re around 30 percent,” Carter says.

Finally, Carter hinted at more programming that will help address issues faced by small business owners.

Quinten Harris, Deputy Director of the Department of Development, shared information on grant and loan programs available for small and emerging businesses.

“We have created several revolving loan funds to support various investments that small businesses make,” Harris said.

The low-interest loans max out at $199,999. Harris says applicants must meet many of the requirements similar to a traditional bank, but they can offer more flexibility with rates and terms.

Available grants can be used for interior and exterior business renovations. Other programs include the Green Columbus Fund for sustainable development and redevelopment, and the Mile oh High Facade Renovation Grant for storefronts in the downtown core.

The city’s Small Business Concierge Ryan Schick also addressed the crowd, highlighting the uniqueness of his position.

“When the city council convened the small business round table two and a half years ago, they challenged the small businesses to come back to the city with one answer, and that answer was a singular point of contact within the city,” Schick says. The fruition of that request created his position.

The concierge position strives to create efficiency. Schick answers questions, makes connections and provides assistance in virtually any way possible. He stresses the collaborative effort that has led to many successes.

When he started the position, Schick created his own metric of success. One that has now been met four times. Other cities are spending money to learn more about his position and possibly implement similar programs.

Councilmember Hardin noted that he will be drafting an ordinance to continue funding Schick’s position.

While much of the discussion focused on city-led resources, mention was made of other small business resources throughout the city including Rev1 Ventures (formerly TechColumbus), ECDI, the SBDC and national organization, the Small Business Majority.

Hardin hopes this will be the first in a series of hearings on small businesses. Up next on the agenda are female-owned businesses and social entrepreneurship.

A video of the hearing in its entirety can be found below: