I’m no economist so I can’t offer any particularly unique insights into the highs and lows of our current economic conundrum but as a City Manager I watch closely and listen attentively so that we can contribute and add economic value in our community. Sometimes that means staying out of the way and letting good businesses do their thing. Other times that means rolling up our sleeves, pitching in and taking a turn pushing the rock of progress up the hill. As dynamic and unpredictible as our economy has proven to be in the last 9 months we’ve had to teach this elephant to dance. We’ve become Macarena devotees; we lean in here for this business, lean back for another, side shuffle, side shuffle, and clap as we cheer them all on. That about sums up our work day. The City may not produce economic value directly but we can certainly create a favorable atmosphere for investment and job growth.
Fortunately we’re not just dancing with ourselves. We’ve got a long list of dance partners that are busy mastering the footwork needed to support our business community. Some of the dancers are well known: The Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Kent, Kent State University, and Portage County. But others are less well known and after sitting through a meeting to hear how many businesses that the Kent Regional Business Alliance had helped dance their way to the podium of business success I thought it was worth spreading the word about them.
The Kent Regional Business Alliance (KRBA) is a one-stop shop for small business expertise. I know that a lot of places tout themselves as a one-stop shop because it sounds good but the KRBA is the real deal. They exist for the sole purpose of helping people start, sustain and grow their business. They’re in business to do for the small guy what the big guys do for themselves — the research, business planning, accounting, lending, coaching, marketing…the list goes on.
If it’s a brand new business idea they know the hard questions that you’ll have to answer if you stand a chance to be one of the few proud businesses left standing after 5 years. If you want to buy into a franchise they know that drill too. Tap into state or federal contracts…check. Web business, no problem.
The KRBA is people; people on staff with experience, expertise and contacts that can be deployed on behalf of new businesses at a moments notice.
Perhaps the general public may not have noticed the KRBA but the small businesses in our area have. Since 2001 the KRBA has provided $653,000 in loans to help small businesses get started. Small businesses like Christian Edwards Hair Salon, Artistic Zone, the Backerei, Party Perfect, Leander’s Barber Shop, Earth Tones, Jazzy Kidz, Ohio Home, Lanier Foods, and Stitch Witch.
KRBA can track $36 million in new investment that it provided across 4,500 clients in the last 25 years. This has added $89 million in new sales to the greater Kent area from small businesses alone. That’s a great statement about the cumulative power of the little guys in our current economy.
I’ve certainly done my fair share of cheerleading for the Phoenix Project in downtown Kent (and deservedly so) but Mr. Burbick can build the space and he can charge a fair rent, but it’s been the KRBA that has helped fill it with new retail shops and businesses with solid business plans. It’s a great real world testament to the fact that our strength as a City is not any one of us, but all of us, working together to answer the economic call for All Hands On Deck.
So with St. Patty’s Day just around the corner my Irish eyes will be smiling as I dance a jig in thanks for having such a great dance partner like KRBA in Kent.