YOUNGSTOWN Area entrepreneurs gather to exchange ideas

A California entrepreneurship expert said small-business owners are more likely to succeed if they meet together often.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Eve Bevilacqua has the kind of dilemma other entrepreneurs dream of.
Business is booming at her Bodyworks Fitness Center in Austintown, and she gets calls almost every week from fitness buffs wishing she'd add a new location in Poland, Boardman or Canfield.
Problem is, Bevilacqua says she's busy enough running one bustling center, and she hasn't been able to find an entrepreneur-investor willing to invest time and money to open another Bodyworks.
Jack Kravitz has another kind of problem. His family's wholesale bagel bakery business in Jackson Township is holding its own, but business mergers, acquisitions and consolidations are causing Kravitz Bagels' customer base to dwindle.
"One of our major customers just bought our biggest competitor," he said. "Our customers are disappearing."
About the event: Kravitz and Bevilacqua were part of a group of local small-business owners attending a breakfast and brainstorming session Wednesday with Thomas J. O'Malia, director of the entrepreneur program at the University of Southern California School of Business.
O'Malia, whose four-day visit to Youngstown State University was funded by the Thomas Colloquium on Free Enterprise, urged the participants to meet together frequently and support one another.
He said entrepreneurs will increase their chances of survival if they're meeting regularly with other business owners. "You're living proof that support works," he told the group. "It's critical, and it helps you to stay alive."
Simple changes, such as the term used to refer to company workers, can also have a tremendous effect, said O'Malia, also a former small-business owner.
"I don't like employee. The whole atmosphere changes when they become associates. Everyone takes on some level of shared responsibility. You become a team."
Noting area's progress: A native of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., O'Malia said the Youngstown-Warren area has progressed much faster than his hometown, despite the loss of its once-prosperous steel industry. He urged the business owners to appreciate and promote their community.
"You've got an awful lot of good things going on here," he said, "and the people who need to hear it are the people of Youngstown."
The Thomas Colloquium of Free Enterprise Lecture was established at YSU in 1981, funded by an endowment established by Paul J. and Marguerite K. Thomas.
Besides giving a free lecture at YSU on Tuesday, university officials said, O'Malia met with groups of graduate level and undergraduate business students and did a radio interview for WYSU. "It's all about building the entrepreneurial spirit in the Valley," said Dr. Betty Jo Licata, dean of YSU's Williamson School of Business.

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