Study: Middletown tops in Butler, Warren for starting a business

Middletown was 330th, putting it above Fairfield (394), Mason (556) and Hamilton (743) out of 1,268 small-sized cities in the business-friendly study conducted by WalletHub

Matt Eisenbraun, Middletown’s assistant director of economic development, said the study confirms the city is “a great place to start and run a small business.”

Middletown has focused on small business growth by providing resources and support to keep the cost of start-up low and barriers to market entry at a minimum, Eisenbraun said.

“If we can provide fee waivers or small grants that help get a business on its feet and allow the entrepreneur to focus on the business as early in the process as possible, that company has better chance to accelerate to the point of breaking even and eventually succeed and grow,” he said.

Middletown provides direct support by partnering with organizations designed to fast-track the process and get viable ideas to market as soon as possible, Eisenbraun said.

One example is the SBA’s Small Business Development Centers, which provide free, confidential, one-on-one counseling to anyone wanting to start or grow a business.

“Any small business can come in and connect with resources in accounting, law, marketing, sales, finance, etc., and connect with the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Eisenbraun said. “This completes the cycle for so many because solid small businesses tend to be great customers for other growing small businesses.”

Mica Glaser, co-owner of the Windamere Event Venue & Art Gallery, said she and her business partners found Middletown officials to be enthusiastic in their assistance, showing them how to utilize available resources, work with city leadership to purchase the building and take advantage of consultants and information provided by partnering organizations.

The Windamere, which opened last year at 2 S. Main St., also participated in the city’s Façade Enhancement Program for part of its build-out. The event venue is located in the former Ogelsby-Barnitz Bank, which was built in 1929.

Glaser said having city officials, along with the Butler County SBDC, work so closely with the business made all the difference in the world to her and her business partners.

“It was very encouraging because we’re not from Middletown,” she said. “We live in Miami Twp., so to come to a town you’re not necessarily connected with and to have all the help we did was very refreshing because you’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about how difficult it can be to work with certain cities and how they put up more roadblocks than help, and we didn’t encounter any of that down here.”

To find the best small cities in which to start a business, WalletHub’s analysts compared 1,268 cities across three key dimensions: Business Environment, Access to Resources and Business Costs. All the cities ranked have a population below 100,000.

The study said city size matters when choosing a launching pad for a startup. Depending on an entrepreneur’s type of business and personal preferences, a city with a smaller population can be a better option, according to the study.

Greg Kathman, Fairfield’s economic development director, said the city puts great effort into making sure it is business-friendly and supports businesses of all sizes, from entrepreneurial start-ups to large publicly-traded corporations.”

He said Fairfield works with small businesses on a case-by-case situation, rather than a specific program.

“Some need help with finding a location, others need help with financing,” Kathman said. “Some need help getting through the permitting process. Some need advice on marketing to customers. Some could use some business coaching or technical assistance. We try to understand what their issues are, then figure out how we can help. Some businesses we assist directly and others are referred to various partner agencies as needed.”

Liz Hayden, business development specialist for Hamilton, said officials are “thrilled” that the WalletHub ranking noted the affordability of doing business in Hamilton.

“We think that our award-winning public utilities are an incredible differentiator in this respect,” Hayden said. “We are extremely proud of the resources we have available for businesses, not the least of which is the presence of the Butler County Small Business Development Center in downtown, which assisted 33 small businesses with financing in 2015.”

Hayden said Hamilton has a competitive list of tools available to assist businesses that want to grow in the city. That’s helped 16 new small businesses to open within the city’s urban core alone, over the past two years, she said.

In addition, The Hamilton Mill, the city’s incubator, has 15 portfolio companies with 20 patents, Hayden said.

Michele Blair, Mason’s economic development director, said city officials appreciate organizations like WalletHub providing feedback to small business owners on available resources.

“While I’m not familiar with the metrics they used to evaluate Mason, I can tell you we have worked tirelessly with local and regional partners to make southwest Ohio and Mason one of the strongest new business climates in the state,” said Blair, noting the city will continue its focus on being “a nimble partner and fierce advocate for new business ventures.”

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