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WARREN Round-table talk aimed at aiding small businesses



Published: Thu, February 7, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The session was part of a renewed effort to help Warren's small businesses grow.

By CYNTHIA VINARSKY

VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER

WARREN -- Hope Gombkoto has been thinking about expanding her Warren therapeutic massage business but isn't quite sure how to go about it.

And Martha Rogers needs some marketing advice for her gift and clothing boutique in downtown Warren.

Both entrepreneurs found answers Wednesday at a round-table discussion for Warren's small-business owners and featuring representatives from several area development agencies.

Gombkoto, owner of A Touch of Hope massage on Market Street, Warren, and Rogers, owner of MWP Boutiques on Park Avenue, were among about 40 attending the event at the Park Hotel.

Mayor Hank Angelo said he arranged the meeting as part of a renewed effort to help local small businesses grow, whether or not they stay in the city.

"We just recently worked with Trumbull County to help a company move out of town," he explained after the session.

"The company moved to Masury, so it stayed in the county, and we were able to move a new company into the building they vacated in the city. It's not about money, and it's not about competing with Youngstown or Niles. Our goal is to keep companies local."

Participants: The speakers included Michael Keys, director of Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp., Reid Dulberger of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce and John Hogan of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Morris Reid, founder of a public-private business growth and development agency called Partner America, also addressed the group. Besides helping small-city mayors organize business development round tables and conferences, the agency offers on-site business assessments for a fee.

Dulberger said most of the chamber's 2,600 local members are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, too small in many cases to hire their own marketing, human resources, advertising and safety executives.

Chamber services for its members include free advertising in several local print and electronic media, along with human resource, safety and marketing assistance, he said.

Hogan, who works in the SBA Cleveland office, said his agency helps businesses find financing and provides $10 billion a year in loan guarantees for qualifying companies. Agency workers also encourage businesses to access the list of federal government contracts set aside for small businesses.

"Forty percent of the businesses in this country are owned by women and only 4 percent of federal procurement contracts go to women-owned businesses," Hogan said.

Sees need for help: Cary Ann Koren, owner of CAK Business Services in Howland and president of the business networking group Executive Link, said local development officials need to do more to help small businesses survive and grow. She complained that too much attention is given to large industrial companies.

"When I was in business with my Dad, he used to say: Take care of your little guy, your $200 customer. He's your bread and butter. Your big guy is just the icing," Koren said. She advised Angelo and other officials to apply the same principle in caring for Warren's small businesses.

Keys agreed that the Mahoning Valley has become more dependent upon its small businesses with the loss of several large employers, such as Warren steelmaker CSC Ltd. Once Trumbull County's fourth largest employer, CSC left more than 1,300 jobless when it closed last year.

Angelo said city officials plan to offer more events aimed at providing information and assistance to the small-business community.

vinarsky@vindy.com




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