LIMA — Instead of attracting new business and new jobs from outside of Lima, Jermaine Harper is interested in developing what Lima already has — its people.
Harper, executive director of Urban Impact Ohio, has developed a new startup lab with the aim to jumpstart the small business community. Currently slated to receive $66,000 from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, Harper is working with West Ohio Community Action Partnership to create a 10-week course that will teach low- to middle-income residents marketing basics and the legal necessities of starting a business while introducing them to capital resources such as microloans.
Harper said similar programs have been utilized in Detroit, Cincinnati and Toledo, and he’s been working with organizations in those cities to bring one to Lima.
Lima did have comparable classes a few decades ago hosted by WOCAP back when it was known as LACCA, WOCAP Executive Director Jackie Fox said, which helped launch a few local caterers and a DJ business. Those classes stopped when state funding from the Ohio Department of Development dried up.
This time, WOCAP is acting as the administrative/fiscal agent for Harper’s program to ensure it stays in the strict compliance that the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires for CDBG funds.
Harper, however, is the one providing the initiative and energy to launch the program. He’ll be acting as one of the instructors.
“For that person who has been thinking about starting a business and unclear about where to start, we think this is a good place that they can come to,” Harper said.
Because of CDBG limitations, applicants must be under a certain income level, but Harper said he would like to expand the program to be more inclusive if other sources of funding can be found.
In the future, Urban Impact Ohio plans to begin conversations with other entrepreneurial groups in the region, such as the Small Business Development Center at Rhodes State College, to begin to shift the perception of Lima as a great place to start a new business.
Due to its low cost of living, ample cheap real estate and the logistical benefits provided by I-75 and railroads, Lima could be a good place for entrepreneurs to try their hand at starting new businesses, Harper said.
“I want that every time you turn around, you see new a business launched,” Harper said. “Even from a branding standpoint, we want people to embrace this notion that ‘I’m a starter. I start things.’”
The first class will consist of 10 to 15 people for each 10-week cycle. The final class will be a pitch night, when individuals can present their ideas on a new business to an audience. Those who exit the class will also be able to lean on each other when looking for outside resources — such as business consultants, marketers and legal experts — when looking to further expand their business.
“We need to prepare people for the workforce, and there is tremendous opportunity to do that in the region,” Harper said. “But we have a missing component of entrepreneurship.
“There are populations of people that do not want to be dependent on public assistance. … I believe that entrepreneurship is a viable pathway out of poverty.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.