As a native Ohioan, I understand the important role that small businesses play in developing strong rural communities within the state, and within the Great Lakes region. As the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Great Lakes regional administrator, I am focused on achieving SBA Administrator Linda McMahon’s goals to increase resources to rural small businesses to create a stronger economic environment for rural America by empowering local entrepreneurs and small businesses to start and grow their businesses.
To capitalize on these efforts, I recently visited rural Southeast Ohio, speaking with rural small businesses and participating in roundtables with key stakeholders in economic development, education and innovation. Through these collaborations, I was able to learn about key issues impacting the area, from improving investment opportunities to increasing educational outreach regarding SBA’s counseling and contracting services.
I also learned about rural small business successes and the impact that the SBA and its partners have already had on the region. While in Athens, I visited Shagbark Seed & Mill, a small business able to provide an important service to local farmers with help from both the SBA and U.S. Department of Agriculture. By processing the crops produced by family farms in the area and turning them into products such as tortilla chips and grits, Shagbark Seed & Mill is working to create a regional staple food system.
This is just one example of SBA’s and USDA’s efforts to improve program effectiveness and collaboration, aligning investments and bringing more public and private capital opportunities to rural America. By building on the priorities of the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity established by President Trump in April 2017, the federal partnership is working to create a rural America with world-class resources, tools and support to build robust, sustainable communities for generations to come.
We understand the importance of partnerships at the local level as well, and during my visit, I was able to connect with Ohio University, Hocking College, bankers and small business champions such as Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), Buckeye Hills Regional Council, Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (APEG), Rural Action and the chamber, in both Athens and Nelsonville. As the economy continues to grow and unemployment is at historic lows, rural small businesses are struggling with funding issues, finding an able workforce and broadband access. We agreed much work needs to be done and look to collaborate on, rather than duplicate, our efforts in supporting workforce development, research and development with innovation and economic support. The President’s National Council for the American Worker created just days following my visit also will help address this skills gap.
My last stop was in Lancaster to see the downtown revitalization and meet local entrepreneurs supporting the economy and job growth. Its renaissance could not have happened without them and the collaborative work of the city, its chamber and economic development efforts. I visited small businesses including Art and Clay, a social enterprise supported by Fairfield County and Keller Market House, a micro-business incubation center featuring locally-grown food and products. We ended at Double Edge Brewing Company, the town’s first brewery in 75 years. This type of renewal and investment by all, including the SBA, has transformed the city into a viable destination for those near and far.
In all, my visit reinforced that the rural communities in Ohio and in the Great Lakes region have endless opportunities for growth and diversification via small business development, especially if a strong ecosystem is established among partners at the local, state and federal levels.
The SBA is a go-to resource at every stage of the businesses lifecycle for aspiring or current entrepreneurs and I encourage you to reach out to our field offices or visit SBA.gov to learn more about what we can do for you. Follow us on Twitter at @SBAGreatLakes for frequent updates throughout the region or sign up for our e-newsletter at sba.gov/updates.