Trying to start or grow a small business in Cuyahoga? New Office of Small Business can help

Trying to start or grow a small business in Cuyahoga? New Office of Small Business can help

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The rise of national ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft once threatened to eclipse smaller operations like Cleveland’s Ace Taxi, but a county support system instead made the business more competitive – and continues to help it grow.

Like most businesses, Ace Taxi was struggling with how to adjust to changes in the industry following the COVID-19 pandemic. Ridership was down, and more people seemed to be rejecting traditional taxi services in favor of ridesharing platforms.

Ace needed to modernize to survive, General Manager Tim Lewis recently told and The Plain Dealer. But it didn’t have the funds or capacity to make big changes on its own – “Everything we were getting was just going into keeping the business running, keeping the doors open and keeping people employed” Lewis said.

A $50,000 ARPA-funded Small Business STIMulus Grant from the county in 2022, however, provided the capital needed for Ace to create its own app, RideCLE. Now, the company has over 100 drivers across Northeast Ohio, offering private, non-emergency medical and group riding options at fixed prices that are not impacted by time of day or area events.

“Without these funds there was no chance of growth or promotion,” Lewis said. “It’s been everything we hoped it would be.”

Learning from experiences like Ace’s, Cuyahoga County launched a new Office of Small Business in May to help connect, support and grow other small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. Currently, Cuyahoga has over 30,000 small businesses, employing close to 300,000 residents with an annualized payroll of close to $18 billion, a county news release said.

The new office is meant to be a one-stop shop for businesses at any stage where they can receive personalized assistance and guidance on funding, education, collaborations, certifications and even succession planning.

If the question is, “Where do I go for help?” Vaughn Johnson, Deputy Director for Economic Development overseeing the new office explained, “we can assist with that… we can be the conduit and the door opener for those small businesses to walk through.”

One key function of the office will be helping businesses navigate various procurement offices in their respective communities or at the county itself, a process which Johnson said businesses have long reported to be confusing or complicated. Such simplification could expand a business’ client base and diversify the companies that provide goods and services to public offices, he said.

The office could also assist businesses with getting certified with the county as a small, minority-owned or women-owned business, which “levels the playing field” against larger competitors, Johnson added. In early May, the county reported just 453 county businesses that had been certified under one or more of the categories, a dip from 472 businesses in 2023.

Since its May 3 launch, the office has received a “steady stream of inquiries,” Johnson said. The physical office is located on the seventh floor of the county’s administrative building, but services can also be accessed on the county’s website or by calling 216-698-2272.

Johnson is also organizing a series of “How to do business with…” networking workshops to start in the fall.

“We know the need is there,” Johnson said.

Originally Appeared Here