The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) may be one of Marion’s best-kept secrets. Region 6 of the SBDC serves an eight-county area and operates a satellite office in the new Marion Tech Downtown location on the 2nd floor of 107 N. Main Street. Director, Michalina Lacy, is available there on the first Monday and third Thursday of each month, to provide assistance for businesses.
“Whether you’re thinking of creating a start-up, already own an existing small business, or wish to expand your business in a new direction – the SBDC offers consultation, coaching, training, and referrals,” stated Lacy, also a certified business advisor (CBA). What might surprise readers is that nearly all of the services provided by the SBDC are free of charge.
Ashland University is the official host site for the SBDC Region 6, which means AU’s Grants Office administers accounting paperwork and provides partial funding and office space. In addition, the SBDC is a federally-funded program through Small Business Administration grant dollars and a cash match through the state of Ohio.
“Typically, when an individual comes to us with an issue or need, we start with a deep dive into their challenges and questions, and talk about the hurdles or pain points they may be experiencing,” stated Lacy. “For example, someone may need help creating a business plan, or applying for a bank loan, or maybe some of the requirements/considerations for hiring employees.” She added that analyzing the business’ strengths and weaknesses sometimes helps. The SBDC serves a variety of industries, and businesses in all stages of their life cycle, and any for-profit small business (defined by the federal government as under 500 employees) is eligible for services.
If the topic is outside of Lacy’s expertise, she has a pool of independent consultants who are subject-matter experts, and she can refer outside of the region to another SBDC, as well. “While I’m well-versed in many business areas, let’s say someone needs more specialized help with QuickBooks or website marketing and design, for example. It’s great to have experts at my fingertips,” Lacy said.
Another unique need is assistance with exporting. “If a company is looking to grow its business internationally, and export products outside of the U.S., the SBDC has a resource organization called the Export Assistance Center (EAC), which offers export consulting services such as helping with the complex paperwork of exporting, and does individual market research internationally,” Lacy stated. Another organization in Ohio is the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) and this organization helps with the ins and outs of selling to the government or department of defense. And a Minority Assistance Center (MBAC) program that helps minority-owned businesses in becoming Minority Certified/EDGE Certified.
Although some business subjects are similar across industries, the SBDC also creates customized training programs for a group of businesses, if appropriate. And also works with local chambers of commerce or downtown Mainstreet programs in developing customizable training solutions for downtown merchants.
“The Marion Area Chamber of Commerce is a great source of referrals for us at the SBDC,” said Lacy. Michalina has presented to groups through the Chamber on various business topics, and welcomes the opportunity, especially since the SBDC really does not advertise in traditional ways. Most clients come from referrals and word-of-mouth.
According to the website, the mission at the Ohio Small Business Development Centers is to accelerate Ohio’s economy by helping people start, sustain, and grow their businesses. (They) provide high-impact, front-line programs designed specifically for your business.