Entrepreneurs Turn To Delaware For Funding, Workforce Development

It would appear the sky is the limit for entrepreneurs in Delaware, as both city officials and Columbus State Community College have made helping local go-getters grow their businesses and learn new skills a considerable priority.

For its part, Delaware seems keen on using financial incentives to buoy upstart and established businesses, while CSCC’s Delaware campus emphasizes development assistance and on-the-job training.

For instance, to aid expansion and retention, Delaware is offering low-interest business development loans to qualified applicants through its five-year-old Revolving Loan Fund.

Shannon Hamons, Economic Development Coordinator of Delaware

To be eligible, business owners must be creditworthy and present solid, sustainable business plans, says Shannon Hamons, the city’s economic development coordinator.

A seven-person committee consisting of local entrepreneurs reviews applications and disperses the loans. This year, just two companies have been awarded $100,000 each: Engineered Materials Systems (website), which formulates and manufactures adhesives, conductives and encapsulants, and Amato’s Woodfired Pizza (website), a restaurant at the intersection of William and South Sandusky streets that Hamons claims has been very well-received.

Tax abatements also are available to owners who bring business to the area. The most recent tax abatement −for 75 percent of taxes due over 10 years− was granted to diaper maker Associated Hygienic Products two years ago.

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Delaware is desirable to business owners because it’s just 30 miles north of Columbus, which means they can enjoy easy access to its market and amenities while working and living in a place with a small town feel, high-quality city services, low crime rate, and good schools, Hamons says.

Other factors that make Delaware desirable are its municipal airport −which allows local business owners to hop a plane at their convenience− and its proximity to important highways, such as I-71 and U.S. 23, he adds.

The city also maintains a permit process it claims allows companies to consistently meet time-to-market goals.

Currently, Delaware is devising a program to foster revitalization in its historic downtown through the use of low-interest loans to business owners for façade improvements.

Eventually, the city would like to see all 118 downtown storefronts revamped, Hamons says.

The revitalization program is expected to launch within the next month.

The fact that Hamons −who has both public and private sector experience− is on the job at all indicates how important growth is to Delaware officials.

Hamons has been in his current position since February, but for nearly a year prior, Delaware was without an economic development coordinator. The city began the search for a new coordinator last year, but held off filling the position because of mid-year budget cuts that carried over to 2010.

However, an opening in the planning and community development department, combined with City Council’s support, paved the way for hiring.

At the time, City Manager Tom Homan stated that, although he would have liked to fill both the planning and economic development coordinator positions, the need to expand the city’s economic base was so critical it simply seemed more important to fill the latter.

A significant part of Hamons’s job is serving as a liaison between business owners and city government, he says. Hamons also frequently plays cupid with business owners and commercial property brokers.

Right now, three industrial companies are actively scouting locations in Delaware, Hamons says. Each employs about 30 to 50 people.

Another feather in the city’s proverbial cap is the new $25 million CSCC Delaware campus located just south of Camp Lazarus at the intersection of U.S. 23 and Greif Parkway.

“Our mission is to provide access to high-quality, affordable, and convenient higher education opportunities to the people in our large, multi-county service district,” says Will Kopp, vice president of institutional advancement at CSCC. (The service district includes Franklin, Delaware, Madison, and Union counties.)

The new Delaware Campus of Columbus State.

The campus will operate with about 30 full-time staff and faculty members and 18 part-time employees. Classes are being offered there this fall and, as of Sunday, 281 students have registered.

“We predict there will be 900 students once classes get underway,” says David Wayne, spokesman for CSCC.

Registration goes through the first day of classes −September 22−and, in some cases, students can register in the first week of classes.

The city is, predictably, pleased about the new campus, which Hamons guesses will spur economic growth as area entrepreneurs work to meet the needs of a new captive audience.

“While the SBDC has an ongoing presence in partnership with the Delaware Area Career Center, this additional venue will provide the opportunity for entrepreneurs to access the full range of small business services through the CSCC Small Business Development Center, Manufacturing & Technology SBDC, and the International Trade Assistance Center SBDC by providing a second venue for SBDC offerings, workshops− increasing local available offerings,” says Cheryl Hay, administrator at the Center for Workforce Development at CSCC.

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Additionally, the Delaware campus offers owners of existing businesses access to relevant training in their backyard, Hay says.

“The campus site will host dedicated business consultants in talent management, organizational efficiencies, such as Lean/Six Sigma and ISO and Safety programs and improvements, and opportunities for customized programming right at the business site, such as business writing, computer and supervisory training,” she adds. “This gives businesses −from the CEO to HR and training managers and frontline supervisors− another option for their tool box in delivering programming that enhances the skill set of their current workforce. These services also extend to working hand-in-hand with businesses to develop pre-employment training offerings.”

More information can be found online at www.DelawareOhio.net and CSCC.edu/Delaware.

(All photography provided courtesy of the City of Delaware and Columbus State Community College.)