June 2017

Urban League to host regional minority business center

From The Columbus Dispatch

By Rita Price

The Columbus Urban League is the new home of the state-funded Minority Business Assistance Center for the Columbus region, state officials announced.

The program aims to develop and grow businesses that are owned by minorities or by economically and socially disadvantaged entrepreneurs.

Regional centers — the Urban League will be the only site in Franklin County — provide no-cost counseling, state certification support, access to capital and assistance getting contracts. Training focuses on creating jobs and increasing sales.

Stephanie Hightower, president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League, said the agency looks forward “to leveraging our historic reputation and solid public and private partnerships to ensure quality access to capital, resources and expertise for minority-owned and small businesses to grow and expand.”

The Urban League was chosen from a pool of five applicants vying for the contract and is to receive about $400,000 in the coming fiscal year to operate the program starting on July 1, said Morgan Bleich-Lee, of the Ohio Development Services Agency.

The Central Ohio Minority Business Association (COMBA) had the previous contract, but didn’t apply again, she said.

While new business growth is important, “We’re placing an emphasis on existing businesses,” Bleich-Lee said, to help them thrive.

The Columbus minority business assistance program had by far the most new and ongoing clients in the state during the previous year, with 521 served, officials said. The Cleveland-area center had 178, and Cincinnati had 124.

Columbus’ large and growing immigration population likely is key.

Hightower has said the Urban League, which sits in the King-Lincoln District, has heard from many minority-owned businesses about the need for a hub.

The agency also is in the process of renovating a long-abandoned building at 780 Mount Vernon Ave., just across from the Urban League’s headquarters, that is to house business-incubation initiatives, a high-tech learning lab, and My Brother’s Closet, the agency’s social enterprise and clothing boutique for low-income men.

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