Cuyahoga County approves $3 million to support small businesses, especially women-, minority-owned

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cuyahoga County Council unanimously approved $3 million on Tuesday to help four local nonprofit and lending organizations better support minority and women-owned small businesses over the next two years.

The Ohio Aerospace Institute will receive $1 million of the funding. Economic Community Development Institute and National Council for Community Development (also known as the National Development Council) will each receive $750,000, and Village Capital Corporation will receive $500,0000.

Council passed the resolution on second reading.

While some of the agencies themselves provide loans from various sources to start or grow area small businesses, the county money will fund “human capital,” as one of the agencies put it. It is meant to give entrepreneurs broader access to the technical assistance might need to formalize their business plan, work with banks to secure loans or receive individual counseling to avoid missteps.

Many people might have an idea for a small business, but not a business degree or the experience to know how to get it off the ground, Councilwoman Cheryl Stephens said following a committee meeting about the funding on Monday. Minority business owners are also still fighting historical discrimination in lending practices, she said, which limits their access to capital.

The county’s expanded small business program “helps level the playing field if you’re a first-generation entrepreneur,” Stephens said.

Michelle Madison, one of ECDI’s clients, is an example of how the program can work to foster new business owners.

In 2019, she had 35 years of experience working in childcare centers, but she wanted to open her own daycare center. She already had most of the funding she needed and had even found a location in Euclid before flood damage threatened to derail her dreams.

Through ECDI, she was able to access loans to fix the property while also receiving training to fine-tune her business plan. Not only was she able to open the Nurturing Excellence Child Enrichment Center in Euclid in the fall of 2020, amid a pandemic, but she has since grown the business from serving four children to 33.

“I had all the knowledge of the childcare industry, I just didn’t have the resource to pull it all together,” Madison said. “Their support made it easier to navigate.”

Today, she’s still participating in training programs to better market her business through social media and building a website.

“I can call them at any moment for anything I need,” she said.

The idea behind the program is not new for Cuyahoga County, council members and county officials stressed.

The county has been supporting small, women-owned and minority-owned businesses for years through its resource center, grants and forgivable loans programs, the Small Business Stabilization Fund during the pandemic, and by setting subcontractor participation goals on county projects to help ensure equity in hiring.

“This is just one more step in that direction,” Councilman Jack Schron, who chairs the Economic Development & Planning Committee, said. “This is part of our DNA, it’s part of our culture.”

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