CLEVELAND — A member of President Joe Biden's cabinet was in Cleveland Friday, spotlighting small businesses and meeting with owners and local politicians.
Isabella Guzman heads the U.S. Small Business Administration. She says there have been nearly 300,000 new business applications in Ohio since things started opening back up during the pandemic, and that overall the White House invests $100 million into businesses in the Cleveland area every year through loan programs, "to make sure that our small businesses can succeed."
"It's really about creating growth capital, creating a team of advisors to support the businesses locally so they can be the ones doing the contracts on those infrastructure bill projects," Guzman added.
Waverly Willis started cutting hair as a kid in his mom’s basement. He eventually turned his passion into a business 15 years ago, and today, he has three locations for his Urban Kutz Barbershop.
"I've had a lot of ups and downs being a small business owner," Willis says. "I never knew the journey would take me this route. Honestly, if I did, I don't know if I would have taken it."
Willis knows there's nothing easy about growing a business, but he hopes he can help make it even a little easier for the next generation of entrepreneurs. That's one reason why he was happy to host Guzman for a roundtable discussion at his barbershop.
"Sometimes you've got to come down out of the office and dwell among the people to really know what they're going through," he noted.
Willis adds it can be difficult to get a hold of anyone with the SBA, saying owners need more connections and suggesting a liaison who can follow up with small businesses and their needs. Mayor Justin Bibb, who was also part of the discussion, agreed.
"Our job at city hall is to create the right conditions for entrepreneurs like Waverly to succeed," Bibb said.
"We want them to have the level playing field and the opportunity to compete, because they really are the economic backbone of this country," Guzman concurred.
Guzman's trip to Cleveland will continue into Saturday and a SBA Expo at the Jerry Sue Thornton Center from 9 a.m. to noon.