Only a few years ago, downtown Fostoria, Ohio was full of vacant, rundown buildings. The rural community’s population of only 13,400 people wasn’t enough to justify a large chain vendor. As a result, the town desperately lacked retail businesses.
The Fostoria Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Fostoria Economic Development Corporation, stepped up to the challenge.
Traditionally, Chambers of Commerce focus more on supporting their existing members—mostly pre-existing businesses that pay membership fees to the Chamber—rather than investing in new businesses.
But Sarah Stephens Krupp, the Fostoria Chamber Director, believed that the Chamber’s mission to foster economic growth in their community would require them to do more. The Chamber needed to invest in entrepreneurship and homegrown businesses, which would provide the economic boost the town needed.
“Part of fostering economic vitality in your community is building a strong entrepreneurial community through new businesses,” Sarah explained. “Some people were fearful about bringing in all these new businesses, but I’m a firm believer that rising tides raise all boats.”
So the Fostoria Chamber of Commerce started searching for programs that would walk entrepreneurs through the basics of building a sustainable business.
In 2019, Sarah heard CO.STARTERS co-founder Enoch Elwell speak at the National Main Street Conference in Seattle. “I sat through that session,” she said, “and I immediately knew we had to get CO.STARTERS in Fostoria, Ohio.”
After talking to some other communities that had adopted CO.STARTERS, The Fostoria Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Fostoria Learning Center and received a grant to bring CO.STARTERS to Fostoria.
The results have been transformative for the community.
"CO.STARTERS has had a tremendous impact in only a few years. It’s hard to put into words the dramatic positive impact it’s had for our community.”
-Sarah Stephens Krupp
Director of the Fostoria Chamber of Commerce
The Fostoria downtown has become vibrant, and there’s been a notable increase in community engagement, attendance at public events, and public use of common space.
Like many rural communities, Fostoria struggled at first to fight negative narratives in the community around the possibility for growth and change.
Since adopting CO.STARTERS, the community’s mindset has undergone a dramatic change, Sarah explained. Residents have become far more optimistic and supportive of entrepreneurship as they’ve reaped the rewards of the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
So far, the Fostoria Chamber has produced 27 new operational businesses (and 8 developing businesses) using CO.STARTERS, including a coffee shop in the heart of downtown, a brewery, a winery, and a candy store opening next month.
“CO.STARTERS has had a tremendous impact in only a few years,” Sarah said. “It’s hard to put into words the dramatic positive impact it’s had for our community.”
After their first cohort, Sarah was blown away by the relationships that blossomed as a result of the program. During the program, participants built a supportive community, and decided to keep meeting on their own every month after the cohort ended. CO.STARTERS truly does build a network of entrepreneurs, Sarah explained, and that network strengthens them individually as entrepreneurs and collectively as a community.
“I couldn’t speak highly enough about CO.STARTERS, I preach it everywhere I go. It has been a game changer in our community.”