Ottawa County Businesses Meet with OCIC, Chambers of Commerce

Posted on: December 14, 2022

Owners Chris and Tom Gulvas met with Valerie Winterfield, Oak Harbor Chamber, Jessica Grzechowiak, OCIC, and Ottawa County Commissioner Mark Stahl in June.

The Ottawa County Community Improvement Corporation (OCIC), in partnership with Ohio State University Extension, the Ohio Sea Grant College Program, Reveille Ltd. and the Ottawa County Chambers of Commerce implemented a county-wide Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) program to gauge the perceptions and concerns of the local business community. The retention of existing businesses has been and remains a primary goal of the OCIC, elected leaders and chambers of commerce in Ottawa County. Enhancing the ability of area businesses to profitably grow and expand is vital to sustaining and improving local economic viability.

In March 2022, the OCIC held a roundtable with Joe Lucente, OSU Extension, and our local Chambers of Commerce Executive Directors to discuss details about the program. From this meeting, this group developed a BRE questionnaire and was made available on the OCIC website from March until May 2022. The survey resulted in 100 Ottawa County businesses responding. Nearly half of the 100 businesses who responded to the BRE survey reported that they plan to expand, modernize, or renovate their businesses and/or equipment with firms planning to add jobs within the next 12 months. The number of new employees expected to be added is estimated to represent 143 new full-time equivalent jobs.

Joe Lucente, OSU Extension, provided information about BRE Programs and how they facilitate improved relationships among local development organizations and business leaders. 

“I commend OCIC for implementing the BRE Program,” stated Teri Cassell, Executive Director of the Marblehead Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. “The BRE Program helped me to learn more about are local businesses’ needs and how OCIC may be able to assist with the different resources and contacts that they have readily available. The in-person visits also allowed the business owner to discuss openly any roadblocks or challenges that they may be facing.”

Jessica Grzechowiak & Chris Singerling with OCIC, and Wendy Chambers, Put-in-Bay Chamber, met with numerous Put-in-Bay businesses over the summer including Bob Gatewood, Owner of AB Lodging and Put-in-Bay Watercraft Rentals.

For 2022, the OCIC conducted 30 local business visits in partnership with the Ottawa County Chambers. In June, the OCIC and our local Chamber of Commerce Executive Directors and representatives began meeting with local businesses throughout the county. Additional participants throughout these visits included our Ottawa County Commissioners and Firelands Forward. 

One of the first business visits held was at The Mockingbird on Mill Road in Graytown. The Mockingbird is a wine café that brings a cozy, home-like atmosphere to guests. The farm to table menu changes seasonally as do the beverages available, and all food is made from scratch. Owners Tom and Chris Gulvas opened the café in September 2021.

“The OCIC has been a blessing to us,” expressed Chris Guvas, Owner of the Mockingbird. “We met with Jessica along with Commissioner Stahl and Valerie Winterfield of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce. We presented our vision for the Mockingbird, and they suggested actions and contacts to help us make our vision reality. We’ve had continued contact with OCIC and the Oak Harbor Chamber, and we know that answers to our questions or access to resources are just a phone call or email away. Our relationship with OCIC provides us with opportunities to learn and grow our business as we continue our journey. Our future plans include expansion of our outdoor area to provide more opportunities for local musicians and artists to share their gifts with our guests. We are proud to have become a part of the Ottawa County Community of small businesses and look forward to our continued relationship with the OCIC.”

In October, OCIC received a business visit request from Oakwood Lane Weddings. Owners Jesh and Amanda St. John launched a wedding venue business at the historic Williston Quarry off State Route 579. The quarry has been a fixture in the community since the late 1800’s and early 1900s. In the 1970s, Jesh’s grandparents ran a campground and recreational swimming destination that closed sometime in the 1980s. Jesh and Amanda purchased the property about 5 years ago. After hosting several private weddings and events, they decided to launch a Oakwood Lane Weddings to the public back in August.

“The OCIC was very helpful as an introductory open door into the local small business community,” commented Jesh St. John, Owner of Oakwood Lane Weddings. “As a new small business owner, there are a lot of things that we just don’t know, and don’t know that we don’t know. It was great to have someone to talk to about our financing concerns, and just to get feedback about the business concept. We are still pursuing financing since our conversation, but we continue to get positive feedback all the time about our property and the services we plan to offer. I think the most valuable thing that came out of our conversation so far is just knowing that we have a resource if any questions come up. The OCIC has been great when it comes to doing the legwork to find answers, and that is extremely valuable to someone just trying to get off the ground.”

In November, OCIC met with ImprintLogo in Port Clinton to hear from owners Craig and Kellye Stephens. ImprintLogo is a family owned and operated promotional products company that has been in operation since 1999. The business sells thousands of products that can be custom designed for businesses, teams, organizations, or anything else the customer wants. Products include a variety of sports balls, apparel, drinkware and toys.

Jessica Grzechowiak, OCIC, sat down with ImprintLogo Owners Craig and Kellye Stephens to talk about their business and how OCIC can assist funding opportunities.

“We were fortunate to have had a very informative meeting with Jessica Grzechowiak from OCIC,” commented Kellye Stephens, owners of ImprintLogo. “We learned a great deal about opportunities that are available from OCIC for small businesses in the area. Jessica helped us with a current grant that was available to us to help grow our business. We are currently working to expand our production in house to print products and grow our business to meet greater needs in the local community.”

The success and growth of existing businesses supports a larger tax base, increased local spending, enhanced public services, and an overall better quality of life. Strong local businesses also play a major role in the attraction of new business to an area. Satisfied existing business leaders serve as a community’s best ambassadors to recruit new firms as well as a source of leads when seeking new firms to recruit.

The Ottawa County BRE Program is an economic development program that serves existing businesses in a community and is part of an on-going economic development plan. For more information about the BRE Program, please visit