For 25 years, David Main and the Hamilton County Development Co. have believed in the future of Southwest Ohio. Today, the organization has evolved from its initial start as a U.S. Small Business Administration-certified lender to become an important catalyst for this region’s economic development.

Under the guidance of Main, the HCDC president, the organization works as an advocate for businesses and entrepreneurs. Main says the HCDC has approved about 1,000 loans and promoted more than 200 economic development projects. It also has fostered hundreds of businesses in its entrepreneurial incubator. Its efforts have resulted in a staggering 30,000 jobs and $2.6 billion in private investments.

The HCDC’s mission is threefold: to help finance businesses, to promote business and community growth and to provide entrepreneurial mentorship. As one of the top certified development companies in the country, the HCDC administers a number of programs for the county and surrounding communities.

According to Todd Portune, president of the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners, the HCDC is an important partner in the continued success of the county. It provides assistance to hundreds of local businesses every year through the Horizon Certified Development Co., an SBA-certified development company that offers the SBA 504 Program to small-business customers. The SBA 504 Program enables small businesses to purchase, construct or renovate owner-occupied real estate and purchase equipment with a low down payment and fixed interest rate for a term of 10 or 20 years.

The staff of the HCDC has seen small successes and huge wins. One day, they might help a mom-and-pop shop acquire a $50,000 building loan; the next, they might meet with executives at long-time Sharonville presence Ford Motor Co. In 2007, the HCDC worked with the automaker to secure a $220-million investment in the Sharonville plant, which helped retain at least 1,400 local jobs.

Main also counts the Bruewer Woodwork Manufacturing Co. in Whitewater Township as one of the HCDC’s success stories. The 40-year-old company acquired an SBA loan to build a 165,000-foot facility in the 1980s, and today is so successful it’s outgrown the SBA 504 loan program.

“They’re like kids — you’re proud of them all,” Main says of his client businesses.

Forgive Main if he sounds like an indulgent parent. When he was hired in 1983, he was the only employee of the fledgling, all-volunteer HCDC. Over the past 25 years, he’s nurtured the organization to its current 20 employees who have secured billions of dollars for the region. When the HCDC opened its doors, its scope for loans was limited to suburban Hamilton County. Today, the agency is no longer bound by exclusivity rules and helps businesses across Ohio and Kentucky, as well as businesses in three counties in Indiana.

Portune likes the proactive nature of the HCDC. He says the organization helps keep open the lines of communication to local businesses. The HCDC can be instrumental in identifying potential problems for businesses, so solutions can be found before closure or relocation becomes an option.

“It’s a new world order in terms of the way businesses operate today,” Portune says. “We’ve got to be very proactive, very aggressive. We’ve got to work smart to keep businesses in Hamilton County. The HCDC helps us tremendously in doing that.”

Main is also quick to point out the importance of the organization’s 15-member, all-volunteer board of directors, including Ron Schallick, HCDC board chair. He says the directors’ advice and counsel is vital to the HCDC.

While economic development is the focus of the HCDC, it may mean different things: attracting outside firms to the area, assisting in the retention or expansion of existing businesses or assisting in the creation of new ventures. Whether small-scale or large, whether coaching a small business on how to approach a bank or educating federal officials about the economic needs of the region or state, Main and his staff seem to have done it all. If they haven’t, they’ll find someone who has.

“We can’t solve every problem, but more often than not we can refer them to a potential solution,” he says.

The HCDC also operates a thriving urban/county economic development office, and, in terms of tenants and graduates, runs the largest business incubator in the state of Ohio: the Hamilton County Business Center. Patrick Longo is director of the HCBC, a facility that gives entrepreneurs flexible, affordable space and business support assistance and coaching.

Since 1989, more than 200 businesses have participated in the HCBC’s business incubation program. There are currently 48 tenants leasing multi-use space in the two HCBC buildings. The businesses employ 215 people. They’ve generated revenue of $20.1 million during the past year.

Longo has worked for Main for 12 years and calls him a true social entrepreneur: someone who knows how to take risks and make things happen.

“David has created a vision and has been able to leverage that vision,” Longo says. “We work as a team and offer more products and services to clients when they walk through the door.”

Longo says the agency he oversees is a product of Main’s vision. And the reality has been remarkably successful. “We are the hub of the entrepreneurial system in Southwest Ohio,” he says.

The HCBC is a valuable asset not only to the county, but to the entire state, as well.

“The Hamilton County Business Center is right there on the front line for delivering the types of assistance and support that early-stage companies and entrepreneurs desperately need to help change the trajectory of Ohio’s economy,” says Beth Colbert, Edison Centers Program administrator for the Ohio Department of Development’s Technology and Innovation Division.

The HCBC, with the help of its parent organization, the HCDC, has built important relationships with a broad network of professionals — past clients, banks, accountants, attorneys and investors. The Queen City Angels Investment Group has collaborated with the HCBC for just three years, but its members have mentored 75 entrepreneurs and provided capital for start-up businesses.

James Cunningham, executive director of C-Cap, the administrative arm of the Queen City Angels Investment Group, works with HCBC businesses.

“The HCBC provides critical services to these young companies to get them to the level where angel investors want to fund them,” he says.

Bill Cunningham, executive-in-residence for advanced manufacturing at CincyTech — a regional state-supported technology initiative — is on the HCBC’s advisory board. He says helping entrepreneurs is all about collaboration.

“Longo (the HCBC) is really focused on beginning businesses but doesn’t do any funding,” he notes, adding, “We (CincyTech) work with beginning businesses in the advising capacity but don’t do any landlording.”

Three Degrees Creative, a firm that designs branded environments, displays and graphics for retail spaces, has been an HCBC tenant for two years. Managing partner Birch Bishop says mentoring is “huge for us.”

“Pat is always available and ready to help us define our goals and ideas,” Bishop says.

Alan Hautman, registered architect, cofounder and principal of HCBC client business Emersion Design, says the organization has been indirectly instrumental in his new company’s success.

“The HCBC environment is inspiring and motivating,” he says. “New businesses have an energy and enthusiasm that is almost tangible. The opportunities to speak with other entrepreneurs about their business ideas and plans is energizing and promotes thinking about your own business development plans in new ways