In the wake of federal corruption indictments this week, services at the Greater Dayton Minority Business Assistance Center were abruptly suspended, potentially leaving new start-up businesses without a local ally or resources.
While her company doesn’t rely on the MBAC today, it was important in her company’s early days, said Jessica Watters-East, owner of Dayton’s Noir Marketing + PR.
“With them being closed, anybody who is anywhere in the (business formation) process, it has the potential to leave a lot of businesses that are really good businesses … in the lurch,” Watters-East said.
Dan Bowerman, a spokesman for the Ohio Development Services Agency, said the department has contacted Dayton companies and has “referred them to advisers at other centers.”
“Our focus is providing a continuity of services to customers of the Minority Business Assistance Center,” Bowerman said in a statement in response to questions from the Dayton Daily News. “We have assigned other counselors to assist them with their needs.”
He didn’t respond to a question about why his department has taken this action. But the announcement came the same day this week as the arrest of RoShawn Winburn, former director of the Dayton MBAC, on corruption charges. Also charged were Joey D. Williams, a local bank executive and former city commissioner; former state representative Clayton Luckie; and businessman Brian Higgins.
In a federal indictment, Winburn is accused of taking more than $20,000 in cash bribes from individuals and companies seeking to do business with the city of Dayton. In exchange, Winburn agreed to take - and actually took - favorable official action that benefited the people paying the bribes, the indictment says.
For clients in Montgomery, Miami, Shelby, Darke and Preble counties, advisers at the Small Business Development Center at The Entrepreneurs Center, in Dayton, can help, Bowerman said. The center can be reached at (937) 281-0118 or email@example.com.
“We are going to be picking up responsibility for some of those clients,” Scott Koorndyk, president of The Entrepreneurs Center, said Thursday. “And we’re eager to do that.”
Responding to questions, Erica Fields, executive director of the city of Dayton’s Human Relations Council, said in a statement: “In light of recent news, we have been in close contact with the Ohio (Development Services Agency) and are working on a plan to get our office back fully staffed. In the meantime, customers located in Montgomery, Miami, Shelby, Darke and Preble counties, can contact advisers at The Entrepreneurs Center.”
The MBAC is part of the city’s Human Relations Council.
Koorndyk expects most businesses referred to the center to be non-technical in nature, owned by women and minorities. The center has been assisting an array of businesses for years, and taking on these clients is probably the most “efficient” answer for Dayton companies, he said.
For clients in Clark, Champaign and Greene counties, Bowerman said the state is referring clients to the Small Business Development Center in Springfield.
Clients in Auglaize, Mercer and Logan counties are to call the Minority Business Assistance Center satellite office in Lima.
Bowerman said the state’s network of Minority Business Assistance Centers serves “thousands” of clients each year.
The city of Dayton’s Human Relations Council was still listed Thursday on the Development Service Agency’s Minority Business Assistance Centers’ page, although a phone number for the Dayton council was not given.
Watters-East worked with the MBAC as she sought to win new clients for her then-fledgling business in 2013.
An Entrepreneurs Center employee recommended that she contact Winburn for help in winning a city business PEP (Procurement Enhancement Program) certification, which led to a state certification — which opened doors for her business, she said.
“There is a mountain of paperwork,” Watters-East said.
At one point, Winburn gave her a call early on and urged her to complete the application for PEP certification. Winning the certification was a key formative step in her early business.
“I’ve gotten a couple of contracts through those certifications,” Watters-East said.
The certification did not help in winning jobs with the city and the state, but it did prove useful with getting business elsewhere, she said. “It’s kind of like having a team on your side.”
With those services being suspended, some businesses may be left in limbo, she fears. Bigger companies often have large professional teams handling the government contracting process, a resource that start-ups simply can’t afford, Watters-East said.