Ohio Sea Grant Extension Specialist Joe Lucente helps local economies thrive in coastal communities.
From the ice cream shop on the corner to the factory by the highway, local businesses help their communities survive and thrive. But sometimes there can be a lack of communication between the owners who may not be aware of available resources to grow their businesses and the local government representatives who make decisions that impact their economies.
That’s where economic development and leadership specialist Joe Lucente comes in. He runs business retention and expansion (BR&E) programs for local governments and business communities that want to ensure they’re doing what they can to help grow their local economy and provide employment opportunities for their residents.
Addressing those needs could include everything from adding more streetlights or snowplows to finding low-interest loans or grants that help businesses grow. Often the businesses also struggle to find qualified employees, and partnerships with local job centers and community colleges can help train residents for those open positions.
“This whole thing is about building relationships between government and the business community,” Lucente said. “It’s the small to medium-sized companies in all the communities that we work in that create up to 80 percent of most jobs in that community. That’s why it’s so important to have this process, to let businesses know that they can turn to their local government to help with their needs.”
“This whole thing is about building relationships between government and the business community.”
And those local businesses can have a big impact on a community. A 2015 BR&E survey in Oregon, a coastal city of 20,000 people just east of Toledo, offers a good example of how impactful the business community can be when it has the resources and guidance it needs. Firms there were planning to add between 16 and 19 new full-time equivalent jobs, and based on income tax rates and pay scales, those jobs would translate to an additional $11,000 to $13,000 in income tax revenue for the city and add $491,000 to $583,000 in personal income for the local economy.
In addition, the surveyed businesses planned to retain between 428 and 857 full-time equivalent jobs, which translate to between $296,000 and $592,000 in income tax and between $13 million and $26 million in personal income for the community.
“And of course we don’t just do a survey and call it a day,” Lucente added. “We also use the information that’s provided in the survey to help the community form an action plan” and make sure those planned jobs become reality.
In Oregon, that ended up having to take a back seat due to staff changes at the Oregon Economic Development Foundation that prevented them from following up on the original survey. With a new executive director in place, Lucente was able to approach the foundation again to launch a new survey and plan to take action on the updated results.
“In the short term, we’ll be identifying immediate concerns and looking at community services that need improvement,” said Sommer Vriezelaar, the foundation’s executive director. “Ultimately, we want to address such complex issues as the skills of the local workforce and the competitiveness of local businesses.”
The new survey will also give Vriezelaar and her team the chance to connect with the business owners and the rest of the community, and touch base on any additional needs they might have.
“I was on board because it gives me the opportunity to meet all these businesses,” she said. “And if they do need anything, they have a face they can go to, a phone number to call. I can help them figure out what their needs are – do they want to expand, is there another place I can put them if there is a need? The survey is a high priority with my group.”
In addition to the Oregon Economic Development Foundation, sponsors for the new survey include the Eastern Maumee Bay Chamber of Commerce, OSU Extension in Lucas County, and Ohio Sea Grant. Businesses are asked to respond by the end of May, and results will become available in the fall of 2019.