VISITING VIEWPOINT - Advice is always free and sometimes actually works

One of my guilty pleasures in reading any newspaper is seeking out the advice columns. And there is advice for almost any topic you can think of: family problems, religion, teen angst, food, household hints, etiquette, financial planning, parenting and even grammar.
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 25, 2010

One of my guilty pleasures in reading any newspaper is seeking out the advice columns.

And there is advice for almost any topic you can think of: family problems, religion, teen angst, food, household hints, etiquette, financial planning, parenting and even grammar.

I especially like the columnists who sternly lecture the letter writers for asking silly questions. Miss Manners is a great one for offering zingers so politely that you're not quite sure you've been insulted until you can check with the nearest English major.

Mostly, advice columns are good for a laugh, but every once in a while, I catch a gem of a hint. Have you seen what you can do with WD-40 these days? Not to mention Eloise's tips on "valuable uses of vinegar."

I can only imagine the kinds of questions I might get if I wrote an economic development advice column. The first edition might look something like this:

Dear Bethany: I would like to open a small business. Are there any government grants to get me started?

Dear Entrepreneur: My stock answer has always been, "Not really. If you bought Matthew Lesko's Free Money book, it was a total waste of your own money." But today, my answer is different.

The State of Ohio recently has announced a new program for people who have been downsized. They're offering up to $5,000 in grant funds to help potential entrepreneurs start new businesses. The details and procedures are still being worked out, but call me at (419) 668-9858 for an update and more information.

Dear Bethany: Why do big businesses always seem to get all the incentives?

Dear Little Guy: I can see how that perception may have arisen, especially because the Enterprise Zone Tax Abatement program only allows the city to offer tax credits to projects involving manufacturing, warehousing/distribution or R&D.

But there are incentive programs that nearly any business can apply for, regardless of size.

Norwalk's Revolving Loan Fund, for example, can provide low-interest loans to most types of businesses. And many state and local job training programs offer matching grants to employers of any size.

I can assure you that NEDC works with companies at all stages, from start-ups through mature businesses with significant expansion plans. It takes all kinds for a community to stay vibrant and successful.

Dear Bethany: What can our community do to help put Norwalk on the map with businesses looking for a new location?

Dear Biggest Fan: What a great question! My advice starts with the adage that every medical student learns during his or her first year: "First, do no harm."

Site selectors and company executives research communities secretly before ever coming to town. They check out local Web sites and read the newspaper. Embarrassing headlines are enough to get Norwalk crossed off the list of candidate communities. I'm really tempted to list them here, but I'll just let my thoughtful readers fill in the blanks....

But, secondly, we need to be the kind of community that is actively preparing for the future. At an economic development conference I recently attended, we heard that the most important site selection factor is the quality of a community's workforce.

It's the responsibility of every Norwalk citizen to make sure they're living up to their fullest potential. For younger generations, that includes post-secondary education if you think you're college material, or industry-specific skills training and certification if college is not the route for you.

Even adults already working could benefit from taking a course in some new technology. At the very least, keep up with the latest vocabulary so you know that Bluetooth is not something to be treated with denture cleanser!

Bethany Dentler is the economic development director for the Norwalk Economic Development Corp. She can be reached by phone at (419) 668-9858 or via email at bdentler@norwalknedc.com.