MANSFIELD — People who grew up in Richland County and moved for college or job opportunities sometimes move back to be closer to family members, or for cheaper living costs.
According to Richland Area Chamber Director of Workforce Development Clint Knight, some of those "boomerangs" even start their own businesses and find support through local mentors.
Tim Bowersock, economic development director for the City of Mansfield, said local organizations offer plenty of free mentoring.
Braintree, the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development, North Central Ohio SCORE and the North End Community Improvement Collaborative all aim to support young entrepreneurs through mentorship and connections with other local businesses.
“There’s a host of knowledge out there that can be really beneficial to somebody who’s starting a business or in an early-stage business that wants to grow,” he said.
As a department of one, Bowersock’s responsibilities include working with existing businesses, convincing entrepreneurs to move to Richland County, managing the development of new industrial sites and overseeing city loan programs.
The Richland County Revolving Loan program offers funds to projects that aim to create jobs for low- and middle-income residents and increase the economic base of the county. Bowersock works with the county’s Regional Planning Commission to administer the funds.
“Loans are the easiest way to hold somebody accountable,” Bowersock said. “We're supposed to be what they call a gap financier — we’re looking to fill a gap between what the business owner has to invest and what a bank loans toward that business.”
Bowersock said revolving loan funds can range from $5,000 to $100,000.
"The majority of these loans are with companies that are considered to be small business from start-up on up," he said. "These businesses include food service, retail, professional services and manufacturing."
Bowersock said the City of Mansfield doesn’t have any plans to add to what it's already doing for young business owners. He refers people looking for more resources to Braintree or the Small Business Development Center based at Ashland University, both of which he worked for before the City of Mansfield.
For businesses in any stage of their development, Bowersock said he recommends the local SCORE chapter, formerly known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which provides free business counseling and advice.
Bowersock said he is passionate about helping local businesses but is limited by time and his department’s budget. Mansfield’s temporary appropriations budget for 2023, scheduled for vote Dec. 20, proposes $223,735 for the industrial development department's operations expenses, and $148,500 for special projects.
If his department had more funds, Bowersock said he would hire someone to specifically focus on young entrepreneurs, answer their questions and directly work with local mentorship organizations.
Though his responsibilities are broader than helping young entrepreneurs, Bowersock said he is willing to hear ideas on how Mansfield can improve.
“I've always tried to do what I can but if people don’t talk to me, I don’t know what they want or need,” he said. “If somebody's got some ideas out there, I'm more than happy to listen and try to figure out how it can be accomplished.”
Richland Young Professionals is a sector of Richland County Development Group that hosts professional development events as well as monthly social outings. Its goal is to offer young professionals ages 21 to 45 opportunities to “enhance and contribute to the prosperity of the Richland County area.”
Fifth Ward Mansfield City Councilman Aurelio Diaz said Richland Young Professionals networking events and social hours help generate energy and excitement for Mansfield’s future, but sustaining that energy through the process of making concrete plans can be difficult.
The Mansfield Rising Downtown Investment Plan, developed in 2019, includes almost two dozen action items for downtown improvement that can individually take months or years of work. Diaz said the city is working on multiple action items but it’s easy for residents and officials to forget.
“You hear it mostly, unfortunately, during people’s campaigns and it should be talked about all the time,” he said. “We don’t want young people to feel like they have to leave when there’s opportunities for you here.”
State Rep. Marilyn John (R-Shelby) also admitted government and community development don’t move as quickly as most would like.
“Communication is not the strong suit of government,” she said. “There's always things that we could do better to help individuals understand what is available to them.”
Nonprofits including NECIC, Richland County Foundation and Richland County Development Group have grants for different types of local businesses and provide resources to inform businesses about other incentives in the area.
The RCDG website, for example, lists incentives for operating businesses in the Mansfield area: no personal property tax, no inventory tax and no state corporate income tax.
Are the existing resources enough to stay?
Ayla Yard, 31, has owned GLAM Boutique for about two years and Ayla’s Bridal and Formal since May.
She grew up in Bellville and was inspired to manage her own business by her mentor Amy Forrest, whom Yard worked for at Reflections Salon & Spa.
“I feel like I always need to tip my hat to her because she spent so much time pouring into us — my husband and I,” Yard said.
Having a large contact list is one benefit to running a business close to her hometown, Yard said. The city and her stores are small enough that reputation and word-of-mouth advertising play a significant role in her success. Yard said she’s not sure if that would be the case in a bigger city.
She also said having customers who don’t mind the days she takes her young son into work is important to her.
“I think being in a small-town-type community, people are much more open to the family aspect of being a small business owner,” she said. “I don’t know if that would necessarily be the case in larger cities.”
In the past few years, Yard said she has noticed more collaboration, particularly among young business owners.
As events scatter Mansfield community calendars, Yard said if business owners see something missing, she encourages them to step up and organize themselves.
“That’s the double-edged sword, it’s on me as the business owner to go start up the event and go be the one to do that thing,” she said.
Yard said she hopes other young business owners can build and sustain their passion projects. She said everyone has something different to offer and the more local businesses Richland County has, the better.
“Anybody that has true success in the area wants to see the next generation succeed,” she said. “The more fun and exciting things are happening in the area, the more fun and exciting people are going to come to the area.”