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SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: Local Ties Matter in Business Success

By Melissa Zomro Davis

Date:

The story of Dr. Melissa Jennings Carman

Melissa Jennings Carman PHOTO CREDIT: MELISSA JENNINGS CARMAN

MANLIUS, N.Y. — In the small-business community, we always talk about networking, connections, and working with trusted partners. That has never been truer than when it comes to working with a lender, especially during the current climate. 

When you are starting or expanding a business, having a good relationship with your lender can make or break a deal. Those lenders who are local, where you can put a name to a face — where they are a part of your community and you can see the person at the grocery store — really are an important piece to your puzzle. The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Onondaga Community College (OCC) has a network of local lenders that we turn to for our clients’ needs, and those lenders turn to us for their clients’ needs. The relationship is an important piece to the success of any deal that is being developed.

During this pandemic, lending has been stricter, harder, and more strained when it comes to obtaining funds, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. Businesses are still expanding and growing even though we are in these challenging times. In December 2020, Jamey Lloyd, VP and business banking senior relationship manager at M&T Bank, contacted me to help with financial projections on a building purchase for his client, Melissa Jennings Carman, Ph.D., a licensed mental-health counselor and owner of Supportive Solutions Counseling and Consulting, which had been established for 10 years. 

The financials are a huge portion of the loan application and the banks turn to the SBDC for that assistance for their clients. Lloyd has made it a priority for his clients to seek the counseling of the advisors at the SBDC by making that connection every time. “I know when I need certain pieces put together, I can turn to Melissa Zomro Davis, to get that done both professionally and timely. I never have to question anything; she knows what we need and how we need it presented,” he said. “Our partnership has grown over the years and will continue to grow, I am a big fan, which is why I put Dr. Carman and Melissa in contact with one another.” 

Over the past year, the demands of Dr. Carman’s counseling practice drastically increased, largely in part due to the distress brought about by the pandemic. Immediately before the pandemic struck, Carman agreed to supervise her first graduate-student intern, Edie Brown, who has a master’s degree in counseling from NYU and was returning to Cazenovia College to complete necessary requirements for licensure in New York. Brown and Carman rallied to manage their clients’ mental-health needs, all the while working through the obstacles of creating a master’s-level internship. While the bulk of their business was conducted via telehealth sessions, they quickly figured out a way to safely see clients face-to-face in the waiting room of the office space that Dr. Carman was renting in Fayetteville. 

With the additional support of her intern, Carman realized that she could grow a more sustainable and viable business, as well as better meet the increasing mental-health needs in the community, if she had a larger office and was able to hire more counselors. She also forged a partnership with David’s Refuge, a nonprofit in Manlius centered on providing care for caregivers of children with special needs. Supportive Solutions Counseling and Consulting received a grant from the John Ben Snow Foundation & Memorial Trust and the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation to provide mental-health counseling services to families with special-needs children. These grants and the opportunity to have professional partnerships join forces to create this wellness center, contributed to Carman having the desire to jump into this ownership of a building. 

Dr. Carman found a perfect building where Ben and Ben Attorneys at Law was located in Manlius. With the purchase of the building, this would enable Carman to have tenants that all provided wellness as well as mental-health associates that she could add to her practice due to the increased space, fully creating a wellness center she always dreamed of establishing. The tenants will include Christine Roet, certified personal trainer and licensed massage therapist and Lisa Thomas, a registered dietician. Thus, began the process of applying for a commercial mortgage for the new building. 

The office of Dr. Melissa Jennings Carman PHOTO CREDIT: MELISSA JENNINGS CARMAN

As Dr. Carman and I connected and worked on the business’s financials, it became clear to Carman that, “By working [together], I was able to actually see my financial potential in a way that I have never been able to do on my own. [Zomro Davis] spent the time to go through all the financial aspects of my business and helped me to realize that business expansion is not only viable but also financially wise. Her expertise is invaluable in the sense that I was able to feel confident in the purchase of my new building.” 

As the process continued and the approval was met, Carman faced a roadblock with closing. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is working hard on pandemic relief and things are a bit backed up when it comes to lending right now. While the project had been approved, closing was not set. The owners of the building were getting a bit anxious and really wanted this deal to be closed, so while the SBA was not ready to close, Lloyd, the M&T lender, worked tirelessly to make it happen. In the end, they were able to close on the building so that the new owner and the former owner were both satisfied. Lloyd stated, “Because we were persistent, diligent, and surrounded ourselves with a strong network, we were able to deliver on all objectives and overcome every obstacle that stood in our way. M&T Bank was honored to be a part of the team, which allowed Dr. Carman the opportunity to obtain this building. The brick and mortar will enable her to increase the level of programming to those that need mental-health support, which is critical now more than ever. I personally believe our work not only matters to the clients that we serve, but also more importantly has an impact on our community. This was truly an example of where collaboration benefited the greater good.”

Without that personalized attention to the project, the deal might not have been able to happen. You want to make sure that the local relationships you build are going to be there for you when times get tough. It’s important to make sure you are working with people who can help you and guide you as well as support you in your endeavors throughout the community. 

If M&T Bank had not sent Dr. Carman to the SBDC, she might not have been able to complete her financials properly for the loan committee, making closing not even an option, let alone an approval. If the bank had not been able to push the closing on the purchase of the building, the owners might have pulled out of the sale. If Carman hadn’t secured the grants and partnership opportunities with the tenants, she might not have been able to realize it was time to expand. If Carman had not been connected with me to work on her financials, she might not have been thoroughly prepared for all the obstacles that arose during the process. All these partnerships and connections helped pave the path for the success of the expansion during these challenging times. 

Advisor’s Business Tip: Local Ties = Local Support = A Stronger Community  

Melissa Zomro Davis is a New York State advanced certified business advisor at the SBDC, located at OCC. Contact her at m.l.zomro@sunyocc.edu