Can a $500,000 Huntington program help City Hall reach minority businesses?

Small businesses on the southeast side aren’t getting same resources as other parts of town. Huntington National Bank has partnered with the city to create a $500,000 Entrepreneur in Residence program that will target minority-owned businesses.

 


Sanco Services co-owners Kyle Cogar and Dave Santiago said the Cuyahoga Land Bank was instrumental in helping them purchase their first full-sized warehouse on East 93rd Street. Courtesy of Kyle Cogar.


But the partners have received little aid from the city of Cleveland. Photos via Kyle Cogar

 

After acquiring their first warehouse on the city’s southeast side, Sanco Services co-owners Kyle Cogar and David Santiago said they could have used help with repairs but didn’t know where to seek assistance.

“We bought it last year, had to clean it up,” said Cogar, who founded the roll-off dumpster hauling business with Santiago in 2016. They removed more than 1,000 yards of debris, garbage, and tires from the building near East 93rd St. between Cleveland’s Union-Miles and Lee-Harvard neighborhoods.

“You name it, we hauled it out of this place to get it ready,” Cogar said. 

Despite the company’s state-certified status as a minority-owned small business, Cogar said he and Santiago rarely receive contracted work and other aid from the city, making it difficult to grow Sanco amid mounting expenses like the new building or upgraded vehicles.

Meanwhile, Tania Menesse, president and CEO of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP), said businesses in other neighborhoods like Ohio City, University Circle and downtown enjoy new signage, storefronts and other investment from city programs.


Not only do Cogar and Santiago own Sanco Services, but they are also the LLC’s only two full-time employees. The company transports roll-off dumpsters to and from job sites. Photo via Kyle Cogar.

Announced in January, a $535,100 partnership between Huntington National Bank and the city of Cleveland looks to address those concerns. The plan: to pair minority-owned businesses with aid at City Hall and 11 organizations in Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, and Lorain counties to remove barriers to access for upstarts like Sanco Services.  

The Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) program powered by Huntington initiative will create a position at City Hall of the same name through a $1 lease approved at a March 21 City Council meeting, but the city wants the EIR to spend most of their time inside communities. Menesse said the yet-to-be chosen entrepreneur will assist businesses in three southeast Cleveland neighborhoods: Lee-Harvard, Union-Miles, and Mt. Pleasant. 

Looking to get help for your business? Contact the city’s department of economic development at https://makeitincleveland.org/ or 216/664-2406

The southeast side sight-setting dovetails with Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb’s vision for improving the disparity-ridden region. Building his campaign on promises of regional improvements, the Mt. Pleasant-raised politician captured over 80 percent of the vote in the wards that would receive EIR oversight, according to data compiled by cleveland.com.

The rest of the money will be allotted as grants ranging from $10,000 to $80,000 apiece to 11 new or existing local programs focused on assisting minority businesses.

Narrowing down the neighborhoods

While Huntington will pay the Entrepreneur in Residence, nonprofits like CNP will provide man-hours and support. The goal is to assist the entrepreneur by providing him or her with grants, contact information, and web links to pipeline to those in need.

According to Global Cleveland Director of Development Allison Retter, entrepreneur-in-residence programs are a common strategy that allow independent businesses to benefit from venture capitalists and larger corporations. Most, though, are housed within private companies, not municipalities.

“I think it’s more about us helping them problem-solve, plan how to best utilize their time,” said Menesse. “This is a really important investment in these neighborhoods, but it’s going to need to be one of many at the beginning.”  

Roshawn Sample, executive director of Union Miles Development Corporation (UMDC), said financial discrepancy is widespread on the southeast side. It has been plagued by redlining, disinvestment, and a lack of resources.

“The businesses on this side of town would benefit greatly from the residence program, if it’s done correctly,” Sample explained. “In my opinion, it would be great if each agency would just be provided with the capacity of having an employee focused on this.”


Sherolynn Eppinger is the owner of 1000Lbs Lighter Fitness on East 131st Street, one of the only gyms located in Union-Miles. Photo via Sherolynn Eppinger.

Such city support could be beneficial to business owners like Sherolynn Eppinger, who runs 1000 LBS Lighter Fitness, a gym on East 131st Street that has worked with UMDC. Eppinger said marketing is one of her biggest challenges. 

“The location is not always very inviting to surrounding communities and has made it difficult to bring in outside capital,” she said.

Additionally, a city spokesperson said the EIR could help open doors for businesses like Sanco to get deals with Cleveland’s Division of Purchasing & Supplies

“A number of small businesses struggle to navigate City Hall and the small business support ecosystem,” said Sarah Johnson, Bibb’s chief communications officer, who started in February. “The EIR’s role is to help us identify those impediments and eliminate them (if possible) or make them more navigable.”

Reprogramming

Carrie Carpenter, senior vice president and regional manager of corporate affairs at Huntington, said the City Hall EIR and 11 programs receiving Huntington grants are poised to help southeast side businesses develop specialized skills like accounting and web development.

“A lot [of what we discussed was] in the marketing space: How do you do [business to business] marketing?” said Carpenter. “How do you deal with workforce issues? How do you access different grants or programs?”

Among the 11 programs are the Ashtabula Capital Access Program and the Ohio Small Business Development Center at Lorain County Community College, which offers one-on-one small business coaching. Cleveland nonprofit MAGNET will hone in on manufacturers with its Iterator business growth initiative.

 

 

Global Cleveland’s $25,000 grant is earmarked to expand Global Rising, a networking program for immigrants. Global Rising just opened applications in March for participants and mentors to join its third cohort ahead of a July 31 deadline. When Rising resumes in August, Retter said attendees can expect improvements through Huntington’s grant.

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress will use its $50,000 gift to help pay for the second round of Contractors on the Rise (COR), a support program directed at minority entrepreneurs in the construction sector, in the second quarter of 2022.

Kwame Botchway, CNP’s director of community impact and innovation, said the Huntington grant can help Neighborhood Progress and its subsidiary Village Capital Corporation implement changes to COR. Applications are being accepted through April 18.


Before and after upgrades made to a Mt. Pleasant kitchen by Cleveland construction companies as part of Contractors on the Rise, one of the 11 programs that will gain funding through the EIR initiative. Photo via Cleveland Neighborhood Progress

“One of the big lessons we learned from running the first cohort… is how near-impossible it is for a small business to attract capital for growth without the right accounting and financial management systems in place,” he said.

Filling the role

Johnson said the EIR’s salary is yet to be determined, but the duties will include implementing a neighborhood pilot program for new retail construction and creating a survey to gauge program effectiveness.

The ultimate goal is to strengthen minority-owned companies through job creation and networking, but Johnson wants to rebrand Cleveland as business-friendly.

“This is critical as small businesses have choices and are a lot nimbler,” she said. “They can either [relocate] to another neighborhood or service area within Cleveland or [relocate] their business or investment dollars into neighboring cities and suburbs.”

While some work remains before City Hall can boast about a full-time employee dedicated to minority-owned businesses, Johnson said that the half-million-dollar partnership demonstrates that Cleveland intends to uphold its end of the bargain with Huntington. 

“Through the EIR, the city can demonstrate how serious [it is] about working with businesses directly by removing barriers and connecting to resources… doing it better than other cities.”

For more information about the Huntington Entrepreneur in Residence program, contact Michael Elliott, Director of Economic Development at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, at 216/870-2330 or [email protected] The city’s Department of Economic Development programs can be found at https://makeitincleveland.org/ or by calling 216/664-2406.

Collin Cunningham is a freelance journalist who lives in Tremont.

 

 

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