Defining the City’s Role in Small Business with Henry Golatt

It can be difficult to come into a new city and find a way to make an impact.

However, Henry Golatt, Program Development Coordinator for the City of Columbus’ Office of Small Business and Entrepreneur Development, says that hasn’t been the case in his move from Pine Bluff, Arkansas to Columbus.

“In this case, it’s really been very good and easy because I’ve had people within the community who were receptive and open and willing to accept a person from outside,” Golatt says.

Golatt brought his outside perspective, which includes 25 years of experience in small business development, to Columbus in 2017. When he started, Golatt had several ideas of how the position would continue to evolve as he became the second person ever to assume the role.

Some things remain the same – the customer-service oriented nature of the position that offers a direct line of communication between the city and its small business owners. Golatt brings others into that line of communication, deploying more of a team strategy with individuals with experience within multiple departments across the city. Inclusiveness also shaped Golatt’s early vision in the position – inclusiveness in the types of businesses the city supports to the neighborhoods in which those operations are located.

Reflecting on two years on the job, Golatt feels positive about where things are. He has seen the critical, and necessary, buy in and support from departments across the city, from Mayor Ginther’s office to the Department of Development. It compounds the power of his four-person team, which he was worked to deploy around their individual passions, expertise and relationships.

There has been success in the position’s role to be a point of communication. He’s worked with individual business owners, like Letha Pugh of Bake Me Happy, to act as a sounding board and connect the business to certification programs, to neighborhood and community leaders, like Bob Leighty, executive director of the Parsons Area Merchants Association.

“Henry asked great questions, and we had a multiple-hour, far-reaching discussion about South Columbus economic development,” Leighty says. “Henry is a great partner and supporter of our work. He brings much experience and excellent skills from his work in Arkansas, and I like his holistic approach, and his vision for supporting our entrepreneurs.”

Golatt’s vision for supporting Columbus’ entrepreneurs is deeply rooted in aligning the city’s existing small business resources to make them more easily accessible. Golatt says that unlike poorer states like Arkansas, there are resources in Columbus, it’s just a matter of getting quality resources in front of the entrepreneurs that need them.

The city has made headway in connecting business owners with resources through the Accelerate Columbus initiative. By partnering with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and YMT Consultants, the two programs are helping new business owners and growth-stage businesses, respectively.

Golatt has also been engaging with Rev1 Ventures. The startup studio is largely focused on tech-based, high-growth startups, but Golatt is interested in how that mind set can be more applicable to main street businesses.

“You’ve got more focus and more praise being attributed to high-growth – it’s sexier – but we need more and equal attention and resources leveled at traditionally main street and lifestyle businesses,” he says.

To accomplish the loftier goals of the position, from inclusive opportunity for small business owners, to a streamlined path to resources, there has to be a basis of understanding of the current landscape. As Golatt says, there has to be something to react to.

The city has initiated two major studies to take a deeper dive into the state of small business in the Columbus – one focused on the Hilltop and one focused on the city’s ecosystem as a whole.

The Hilltop study broadly found that the area is poised for business growth, and to reclaim its place as a middle-income neighborhood. The study focused on opportunities around the Broad Street and Sullivant Avenue corridors. Broad Street’s thoroughfare nature makes it an ideal retail corridor for the neighborhood’s residents, as well as commuters and nearby workers. The study found Sullivant Avenue the ideal location to continue to build on the number of ethnic businesses that are popping up in the area.

Initial findings are coming to light for the broader, City of Columbus Small Business Ecosystem Assessment. Working with Next Street and Development Strategies, the project takes a comprehensive look at the city’s current small business ecosystem, Central Ohio’s capital ecosystem and the role of the city government.

“I’m participating with an advisory committee working with the City’s consultants on this project, and this is the most in-depth and comprehensive economic development study that I have seen in my 28 years of community work in Columbus,” says Leighty.

Many of the goals Golatt has for the position align with the major, early findings of the city. There’s a large microloan capital gap to be filled to support Main Street businesses, and entrepreneurs and business owners need more equitable access to resources. An in-depth look at the study’s findings is available here.

It’s important work, but really just the beginning.

“Economic development is a contact sport,” Golatt says.

The adage of “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” also applies. Golatt has seen it in his work in Arkansas. He’s still getting calls about programs or initiatives being implemented. The first step is presenting the information, then a community has to take ownership and act and implement.

Those next steps phases are still in the works for the larger ecosystem analysis. Golatt says they will likely add more stakeholders to the advisory committee to develop an implementation plan, a plan that will likely take years to deploy.

The next phases will provide a roadmap that will not only inform the city’s internal work with small businesses, but the work of other agencies and organizations. The city may lead the initiative to develop the strategy, but Golatt says everybody owns it. And that it’s vitally important and will ultimately help everybody.

Assess, formulate, implement, monitor – Golatt is looking to put a system in place that lives on.

Learn more about Golatt and his role with the city here.

ADDITIONAL READING: Take an in-depth look at the City of Columbus Small Business Ecosystem Assessment