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

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

The Ohio Aerospace Institute will receive $1 million in funding. The Economic Community Development Institute and the 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.

The Council adopted the resolution on second reading.

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

A lot of 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, Councilor Cheryl Stephens said following a fundraising committee meeting on Monday. Minority business owners also still struggle with 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 foster new business owners.

In 2019, she had 35 years of experience working in nurseries, but she wanted to open her own daycare. She already had most of the funds 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 repair the property while receiving training to refine her business plan. Not only was she able to open the Nurturing Excellence Child Enrichment Center at Euclid in the fall of 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, but she has since grown the business from four children to 33.

“I had all the knowledge of the child care industry, I just didn’t have the resources to pull it all together,” Madison said. “Their support made it easy to navigate.”

Today, she still participates in training programs to better market her business through social media and creating a website.

“I can call them anytime for anything I need,” she said.

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

the the county supported women-owned and minority-owned small businesses for years through its resource center, grant and forgivable loan programs, Small Business Stabilization Fund during the pandemic, and setting targets for participation of sub -contractors to county projects to help ensure fairness in hiring.

“This is just one more step in that direction,” said Councilman Jack Schron, who chairs the economic development and planning committee. “It’s part of our DNA, it’s part of our culture.”