MOUNT VERNON — On Tuesday, community members had the chance to tell Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose about the success and challenges they face in today's business world.
Small-business owners, education officials, and corporate representatives talked with LaRose in a business roundtable hosted by the Knox County Chamber of Commerce. Topics ranged from workforce development to entrepreneurship to taxes and regulation.
Describing himself as an “advocate for entrepreneurship,” LaRose asked how local educators and business representatives get out the message that vocational work provides an opportunity for long-term employment and “a good, honest living.”
Kathy Greenich, superintendent of the Knox County Career Center, told LaRose the KCCC's recent study in the areas of manufacturing and health care provides information about the number of people needed and the training required to equip them for those positions.
“I think we have a pretty good niche in training people,” she said. “We are grateful that Gov. DeWine and Mr. Husted are talking about workforce development because we need parents to understand that vocational is as important as four-year college. We have a lot of things in place here in the county, but we can always do a better job getting the word out that they can stay here in the community and find a job.”
Bethany Celmar, Burch Hydro, said that although there are lots of manufacturing jobs available locally, it is challenging to retain students interested in professional positions.
Bob Boss, president of First-Knox National Bank, said the bank's internships have helped some stay in the community. Jan Thomas, community relations advisor for Kenyon College, said that Kenyon is kicking off its internship program this fall with 24 students.
“We are hoping it's another way to get them deeper into the community,” she said.
Knox County Commissioner Thom Collier told LaRose about the Knox Manufacturing Camp that introduces seventh- and eight-graders to vocational work and the compensation available.
Responding to LaRose's question about soft-skills training such as managing finances or showing up on time that some families do not teach, Greenich said, “We treat them like a professional, not just an adult anymore.”
Noting that Columbus-area businesses are recruiting KCCC students in their junior year, Greenich said, “Our students are becoming highly sought after.”
Ariel Corp.'s Brian Huprich said that employers have a responsibility in training and retention. He noted that if someone has a good work ethic, they can be trained for a position if they don't already have the skills.
“I would rather take somebody who is upbeat and ready to go to work and train them rather than someone who has training and doesn't want to work,” he said.
Cindy Cunningham, an attorney with Murray, Rauzi, Kidwell and Cunningham, told LaRose that one site connecting the departments of commerce, taxation, and Secretary of State's office would help ensure that entrepreneurs would complete all of the required paperwork.
LaRose said that Ohio Business Gateway, designed to be that one-stop resource, is not great. He is working on more accountability and bringing the site up-to-date.
Additionally, he wants to make it easier for minority, women, veterans, and disabled entrepreneurs to access the information they need to start a business. The site now asks if the individual fits one of those categories; if so, the site will direct the person to appropriate resources.
“These folks who are busy growing their business shouldn't have to pick through things,” said LaRose.
LaRose asked for feedback on the idea of creating a data-sharing protocol between government agencies to reduce or eliminate the need to repeatedly fill out the same information. The individual could set up a business profile with the employer ID number, business name, and other standard information. Local officials agreed that would be very helpful.
He also touched on the area of identity theft in business. Business owners will now be notified by email if any changes are made to their business profile. He said that ultimately, he wants to reach the point where making changes requires a verification code sent via text or email.
In the area of taxes and regulations, LaRose said “trimming back” is a continued focus.
“When you implement pro-growth and pro-business policies, you shouldn't be surprised to see more growth,” he said.
Noting that the 14,000 new businesses started in March is an all-time high for Ohio, LaRose said, “We are well on pace for 2019 to be the highest formation of new business.”