Grant launches economic project here

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By MORGAN MANNS
STAFF WRITER
For more than 100 years, the Fostoria Area Chamber of Commerce has been actively promoting civic progress and business growth in the tri-county area.
In an effort to increase support for area small businesses, the chamber applied for and received a Rural Community Development Initiative Grant through WSOS from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development.
Entitled Economic Empowerment Project, the grant allows WSOS to provide help to small rural communities for business and economic development efforts.
Through the grant, the Fostoria Area Chamber of Commerce will host a small business roundtable from 12-1:30 p.m. Friday at the Fostoria Learning Center, 342 Perry St.
The idea, according to chamber/small business Director Sarah Stephens-Krupp, is to gather information and find needs in an effort to better support existing businesses.
“We would like small business owners and managers to come to the roundtable so that we can find out what their current needs are and how the community could better support them,” she said. “We’re looking for common themes in what those needs are so that the chamber can begin to meet those immediate needs and make plans to address long-term needs.”
The chamber was awarded the grant in December 2016 with meetings beginning in January 2017.
The main goal, according to Krupp, is to gather as much information as possible on the needs of area small businesses to ensure their longevity while also creating an environment conducive to more small business startups.
“We want to ensure that our local small businesses are successful,” Krupp said. “We are looking for new ways we can help support our small businesses so they can be successful and grow and reinvent. We want to create a climate in our community that supports small business startups.”
Fostoria is one of eight communities across the state participating in the grant. The other communities include Toronto, Columbiana, Carrollton, Sebring, Minerva, Lodi and Wellsville.
Also available through the grant is short-term business coaching. WSOS has hired a business consultant, Hrishue Mahalaha, managing partner of Innovation Economy Partners, to provide free coaching for area business owners and managers.
Those interested will be put in touch with Mahalaha, who will sit with business owners and managers to discuss problem areas within the business as well as analyze the business situation and provide feedback on ways to improve.
Krupp said Mahalaha will provide a general review of business operations as well as short- and long-term initiatives for the business, refine and develop better business plans and identify resources and support services for owners.
The coaching opportunity will be further discussed at the roundtable event Friday.
This portion of the grant expires at the end of the year; however, the grant itself is a 2- to 3-year process.
“Once we start gathering information and identifying needs, we’ll develop and implement programs with this grant,” Krupp said. “It hinges on this first year as we go out and access the community and its needs and decide how we want to move forward and address the identified needs.”
Mahalaha will facilitate Friday’s roundtable, leading the discussion, providing business owners with a setup of what they hope to accomplish, getting their input on their current needs and how they can be better supported and pointing them in directions of available local, regional and state resources.
“It’s critical we get people to come (to the roundtable) Friday so we can gather viable information,” Krupp said. “We hope they can come and tell us what their needs are so we can develop ways to meet those needs.”
For more information or to RSVP, call 419-435-0486 or email sarah@fostoriachamber.com.

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