GREEN  Growing up in Ashtabula, newly named Green Area Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Jon Kozesky saw the best and the worst of small business ownership over the course of a brief half decade.

"My mother was a third-shift janitor and my father was a police officer who had been injured, and they scrimped and saved and started a small business," Kozesky said during Green’s first Building Bridges for Business Engagement meeting of the year April 26. "It was the scariest thing in the world and they went out of business in five years."

The focus of his comments at the gathering also centered on small business ownership and its potential collective power.

"Ninety-eight percent of all businesses in Ohio are small businesses," he said. "But if you put together all those three, four and five-employee mom and pop shops, we can help solve each other’s problems. That is what a chamber of commerce is supposed to do. Sales down? Have a marketing problem? When (members) need something, the first line is not Google, but other members."

Varied career path

Following a career as a firefighter and Lake Erie water-rescue diver, Kozesky dove into a different sort of arena altogether - government and politics.

He worked in the Ohio Statehouse before serving in the office of U.S. Congressman Steven LaTourette and as a grants manager and communications staffer for then-United States Senator, and former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Having served for both a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives and a Democratic member of the United States Senate, Kozesky said he realized the pivotal importance of bi-partisanship, a concept that became the guiding principal of his Jon Thomas Consulting, a firm that specializes in government affairs and grant strategy solutions. 

Kozesky has also worked for Washington, D.C.'s largest private lobbying firm, Van Scoyoc Associates, serving a variety of Fortune 500 companies, as well as national nonprofit organizations and municipalities. He said his true passion has always been "serving entrepreneur-led small businesses and community nonprofits, ensuring that they had the same opportunities afforded to Fortune 500 companies, in the realms of business development and government affairs."

In addition to serving as CEO of the Green Area Chamber of Commerce, the Cleveland resident is also CEO of the Brecksville Broadview-Heights Chambers of Commerce and serves as executive director of The Littlest Heroes Pediatric Cancer Foundation and the JD Breast Cancer Foundation, each of which have committed more than $250,000 a year in emergency financial support to families receiving cancer treatment in the region.

Different goals

The reasons businesses join chambers of commerce, Kozesky said, vary greatly. From those who simply want to increase sales, to those who join for the benefits offered – some of which don’t even realize they are members, to those who join for exposure, or simply as "the right thing to do."

In each instance, however, what one gets out of membership is commensurate with the effort put in.

"There are some who think they can put the (chamber membership) plaque up and it will act like a lighthouse, clients are just going to come through the door," Kozesky said. "You’ve got to become involved."

And the Green Area Chamber offers a number of networking, education, recognition and marketing opportunities to do just that, he said.

"Our biggest challenge is member engagement, and conversely, our biggest asset is members who do take part," he said, adding that he himself sees his position at the Green Area Chamber, which he has held since October 2016, as an opportunity to put his skills to work.

"I’ve had a lot of clients in the Akron and Green area and I know this is a great area," he said. "And everyone has been extremely welcoming."

Kozesky noted that upcoming and in-the-works Chamber events and initiatives include its June 16 golf outing, a planned job fair for Green High School students, and a program to offer professional business coaching to members.

Building Bridges

During the remainder of the meeting, Mayor Gerard Neugebauer gave updates on several infrastructure projects throughout the city, including improvements to the Massillon Road corridor, as well as an economic development update on five senior housing projects, Green Family Fun Zone, Splash Car Wash and Spoonhower Orthodontics.

Neugebauer also reported on the city’s ongoing efforts opposing a proposed Nexus natural gas pipeline through the city and honored three Green-based companies – Cascade Lighting, GE Special Pack, and Warmus Builders - for more than 20 years in business.