The growth support dilemma

Help exists, but companies, organizations struggle to connect

I’ve been working in economic development in Northeast Ohio for more than 12 years. One of my long-running frustrations is the difficulty in finding the small and medium-size enterprises that can benefit from the many good programs available to help fund their growth and job creation.

Many small manufacturing companies are unaware of the local, state and national programs available to them to help. There are many great things going on. For example, Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC), a program to help Ohio businesses compete for federal, state and local government contracts; Ohio Third Frontier, a startup development program; Scalerator NEO, which helps companies scale their growth; Akron Public Library’s Microbusiness Center, a resource center for businesses; and SunDown RunDown, a venue for startups and entrepreneurs to make their pitch.

As with everything else, manufacturing companies have to go out and find these helpful programs because the organizations that administer them are generally short staffed. Their inability to connect leaves some companies to struggle despite being close to a solution.

Recurring frustration

Recently I connected with a small manufacturing company that had approached one of the local economic development organizations for help with marketing. They wanted to connect with a university and potentially the students to evaluate and improve their online presence.

After the visit, it was apparent they were poised for growth, having just purchased a large piece of equipment. I was frustrated because we have some great programs around job training, job creation credits and financing options to help with those big machine purchases in this region, but the two can’t seem to find each other.

Much like the saying goes, I know just enough in this space to be dangerous. I can help direct the company to the agencies and organizations, both government and nongovernmental, that know how these things work and can provide details. And that can be a big help. But more importantly, how can we not know about these companies? Why can’t we find them?

One answer is there are thousands of small and medium-size enterprises in Northeast Ohio. It’s very hard to find them all. The managers and owners have their heads down working hard, doing their part to drive the economy. They just aren’t in the same places at the same time to connect.

Worth the time

When was the last time you met with your local, state and federal representatives, told your story and asked for help? When was the last time you met with local and regional organizations like the Stark Development Board, or JobsOhio, or attended an economic development meeting?

Take some time to look outside your business for programs and organizations that exist solely to help with your specific problem. You might be surprised by what you find.

John Myers is helping the University of Mount Union build out its entrepreneurship program, connecting with manufacturing companies to provide R&D and to establish a patent and IP commercialization policy as well as managing its incubator.