Since it came to Youngstown in 2011, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Emerging Leaders executive-level training initiative has helped dozens of local business owners meet their goals — all for free.
Youngstown is one of just 27 cities where the program is offered. It started in 2008 and has since trained more than 1,300 small-business owners nationwide.
Though it serves all who qualify, the program’s primary goal is to include as many women and minorities as it can. The SBA funds the initiative, and it’s offered free to those who are accepted.
In Youngstown, the course is a collaboration among the SBA’s Cleveland office, the Ohio Small Business Development Center at Youngstown State University and Youngstown’s Economic Development Office.
“It’s our feeling that the Youngstown area has a lot of very small businesses. It’s not as industrialized as Cleveland,” said Jim Duffy, assistant director of lending relations at the Cleveland SBA. “We feel the program has been well-received, and we’ve had great cooperation among our partners.”
Duffy said the program is no small commitment for those who decide to apply and participate. The 26-week course starts in May and runs until October. Recruiting and referrals begin in February and March.
The course is taught in modules that cover leadership, financial management, sales and marketing and resources management during 100 hours of classroom time.
Business owners or executives must come from a company that has done business for at least three years with annual revenues of between $300,000 and $10 million.
“The program takes a business that might otherwise struggle and gives [it] the information and expertise required to take [it] to the next level and be a more-effective and successful business,” said Bill Oliver, a business consultant at YSU’s Small Business Development Center at the Williamson College of Business, where the classes are taught every other Tuesday when they are in session.
Sixty-seven percent of surveyed participants reported an increase in revenue, while 75 percent of those surveyed reported maintaining or creating ∫jobs in their communities after having taken the program.
Brandon Lamoncha, a sales manager at Columbiana- based Humtown Products, which makes tooling and molds for metal casting, graduated from the 2011 class. He said the program gave him a crucial “introduction to business” because he didn’t go to college.
There’s homework and group-mentoring sessions. Each class of about 15 students is broken up into CEO mentoring groups of three or four people. They work together to brainstorm ideas, share experiences and work on projects.
“It’s been fun keeping in touch with my group just to see what they’ve done since the class ended,” Lamoncha said. “It’s nice to call or sit down with like-minded people to see how they’re growing their businesses. This program goes on long after graduation.”
Susan Scenna, a co-owner of Milsek Furniture Polish in Petersburg, agreed. She’s currently taking the class, and she hopes to stay in touch with her peers.
“It’s really been a great experience. They cover so many aspects of business that you don’t think clearly about when you’re involved in the day-to-day operations of running a company,” she said. “So many small businesses fail because they don’t have a plan. This course forces you to think about those things and focus on where you want to be in three, five, even 10 years.”
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