Young Business Owners Tout Toledo Talent

By Allison Reamer The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Several young entrepreneurs including Stacy Jurich who founded "Boochy Mama's" which produces kombucha, a fermented tea drink, explain why they run their businesses in Toledo, Ohio.

The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

Stacy Jurich, a 31-year-old entrepreneur who owns Boochy Mama's Probiotic Tonic, said Sunday it was a no-brainer for her to locate her mom-and-pop business in downtown Toledo because of the city's unique attributes.

"I wouldn't start a business anywhere else because of the community we have here," she said about Toledo.

Ms. Jurich, a Toledo native, was one of about a dozen community leaders and business owners who gathered downtown on Sunday afternoon to refute a statement last week by a Hickory Farms executive that the company had to move out Chicago to attract top-tier talent.

Ms. Jurich said she wouldn't choose to have her company anywhere but here.

Boochy Mama's produces kombucha, a fermented tea drink, in the Davis Building on 10th Street and Jefferson Avenue. The product is sold at several businesses in the Toledo-Ann Arbor area, according to her website.

It's a small start-up, but she uses local talent in several areas of her business, she said.

"All of our logo work, marketing, Web, I've been able to get very talented Toledo artists to work on," Ms. Jurich said.

"I try to source everything I can locally," she added. "Ironically, I haven't been able to get a local source for my glass bottles."

Sunday's contingent of community and business leaders said in a parking lot on Adams and 11th streets that they take issue with comments made by Diane Pearse, who became Hickory Farms LLC's chief executive officer in early 2016.

Ms. Pearse said last week that Hickory Farms was leaving for Chicago because of trouble finding the young talent the corporation needs in a city like Toledo.

Sam Melden, 32, who is director of growth and advancement at Leadership Toledo, said local business professionals have a problem with "false narratives" and "old stories about our community."

"What do we do from here? We keep going," he said.

"What we do, is the next time someone wants to tell a false story about our community, we stand up again and tell a better story," Mr. Melden said. "And we'll keep doing that forever."

Last week, Ms. Pearse said Hickory Farms said it was leaving Toledo for Chicago to attract talent it couldn't find in the Glass City.

She said Hickory Farms needs to attract talent that has experience in retail product development and merchandising, retail marketing, e-commerce marketing, and e-commerce sales.

"That quite frankly isn't the focus for Toledo. Toledo is a manufacturing town," she said.

Mr. Melden said Toledo's manufacturing roots are important but only part of what it has to offer.

"To say that we're merely a manufacturing town is not the whole story," he said. "Toledo may have its challenges, but attracting and keeping young talent, like this incredible group of people I have behind me, is not one of them."

Several other young professionals shared their stories of why they favor Toledo over other cities.

Josh Cooper is chief executive officer of Whitelabel, a tech firm which started in 2013 and focuses on website design and app building.

Whitelabel has a global client base, Mr. Cooper said.

"We've been thrilled to have our offices here on Adams Street in the creative community and be able to attract talent from all over the region," he said. "We have employees as far north as Detroit and as far south as Dayton."

Seven employees are at the Toledo location, Mr. Cooper said.

While finding those to work in the industry may have been a challenge 10 years ago, it's not the case today, he said.

"I think the exciting thing for us is that we've seen a huge rise in talent locally," Mr. Cooper said. "I think now everyone grew up in the same Internet, and they have all the same opportunities."

Sara Swisher, 29, EPIC Toledo director, said the Toledo region offers a variety of activities to attract and keep young professionals in the area.

"The Toledo region has everything that young professionals and Millennials are looking for. We have really great momentum in downtown," she said. "We have a great urban core, metroparks, night life, so we can definitely continue to attract and maintain those Millennials and young professionals."

A young professional herself, Ms. Swisher said she moved from the Toledo area to Nashville and decided to come back. "I chose to live downtown because I was really excited about the momentum and the exciting things that are going there," she said.

In 2012, Hickory Farms company officials said about 50 employees were working downtown.

Meanwhile, Crain's Chicago Business reported 15 employees would relocate to Chicago as a result of the headquarters move.

Though Hickory Farms' headquarters had remained in metro Toledo, a sizable chunk of business already had left for Illinois.

In 2006, officials announced they would close a warehouse and distribution center in Maumee and consolidate operations at a new 250,000-square-foot facility in Joliet, about 40 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.

At the time, company officials said nearly 90 percent of their vendors were in Iowa, Wisconsin, or Chicago.

Ms. Pearse said Thursday that many of Hickory Farms' suppliers remain in the Chicago area.

Hickory Farms' parent company, Modjule LLC, is also headquartered in Chicago.

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