Small Business Owner

It’s long been considered one of the best-kept secrets in northwest Ohio. And more small businesses in the region would certainly benefit if that secret was revealed.

That’s the belief of Kathleen Keller, director of the Small Business Development Center at Rhodes State College, which exists to assist small businesses in eight Ohio counties — Allen, Auglaize, Hardin, Hancock, Mercer, Paulding, Putnam, and Van Wert — with almost anything they need to accelerate growth, create jobs, adapt to changing environments, and so much more. For over 30 years it has helped clients achieve hundreds of thousands of dollars in cumulative sales growth, and its services are free.

“We offer services anywhere from starting a business, writing a business plan, preparing cash flow projection, helping them diversify and cyber security programs,” says Keller. “We've done a lot in the past year with social media and website development. We also help businesses with red flags reconfigure their business structure or their business patterns to help overcome those pitfalls. So basically, anything that has to do with small businesses, we are a great resource.”

Its area success stories are numerous: Beauty by Jill Salon and Spa, Fat Kid BBQ, Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken, Modcraft Brewery, and so many others. “They’re very encouraging,” says Amy Ambrose, owner of the Winans Chocolates and Coffee location in Wapakoneta. “I would highly encourage anybody interested in starting any kind of business to reach out to the Small Business Development Center, even if you think you have everything you need.”

Helping in the hunt for capital

Part of a national network, the Small Business Development Center at Rhodes State College is grant-funded through the Small Business Administration at the federal level, and the Ohio Development Services Agency at the state level. And while it can help in a multitude of ways — like choosing a location to offer tax help, to just providing one-on-one business advice — one of its biggest roles is in helping small businesses find operating capital, especially in an uncertain time like amid a pandemic.

“With the CARES Act through the federal government and the Ohio Relief Grant programs, we have been able to assist many, many businesses in applying for those grants and loans,” Keller says. “And one of the things we’re finding is, businesses need to diversify and prepare themselves if this pandemic continues to limit the way they’re doing business, or if they need to regain the public’s comfort. And so not only is access to capital a big thing, but we try to help them think outside the box in what they can do to enhance their business in ways that are capital comprehensive.”

During the earlier heights of the pandemic, it was the Small Business Development Center at Rhodes State that helped local business owners apply for the Paycheck Protection Program or Economic Injury Disaster Loans, rather than forcing them to navigate those processes on their own. They also helped owners retool their business models, stepping in to assist small businesses that aren’t necessarily awash in resources and staff.

“Our client load nearly doubled in 2020,” Keller says. “It’s just been incredible. There have been some very sad situations, but I’m pleased to announce that not many of our clients had to close their doors because of the pandemic. That has been good. Surprisingly, many of them had a very good year in 2020 because of the support of the local community.”

Knowledge of grants and programs

The Small Business Development Center at Rhodes State helped Beauty by Jill Salon and Spa with groundwork in getting the business started, including market analysis and cash flow research. It helped Fat Kid BBQ remove the fear of starting a new business after others had failed in the past. It helped Greenhorn Restaurant with cash projections and marketing. It helped Modcraft Brewery find a location. And it currently helps Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken with any ongoing operational questions they may have.

That support isn’t the exception — it’s the rule. Keller refers to the story of two new local business owners, neither one of them entrepreneurs, for which the Small Business Development Center helped secure a $700,000 loan to purchase their business. With continued advice from Keller and her staff, they met their three-year goals in one year — even during a pandemic.

“From working with the banks, we have knowledge of all the available programs, whether through the Small Business Administration, the state of Ohio, or even local funds,” Keller says. “We look at the project, we know what they would qualify for, and we know how we can stack these loans and pull them together to get the project done.”

That’s the power of the Small Business Development Center at Rhodes State College, which is hardly a secret to the hundreds of local businesses it has assisted over three decades. Could your small business use the help that they provide? Contact the Small Business Development Center at (419) 995-8184, or visit their website at for more information.