Mar 18

COSE is the small business program of the Greater Cleveland Partnership and has been the leading small business expert organization in Northeast Ohio for nearly 50 years. Over the decades, COSE has grown to comprise thousands of members. The collective voice of its members allows COSE to offer cost-effective purchasing programs, advocacy on legislative and regulatory issues and networking and educational events to assist in the expansion of the small business community of Northeast Ohio.

The idea of a small business advocate organization began with an Ohio Truckers strike in 1970. The strike involved over 10,000 Ohio truck drivers and paralyzed small businesses across the state, forcing many into bankruptcy. Two-hundred small business owners banded together to apply pressure on political leaders to resolve the strike. Their demonstration against the strike, known as the “March on City Hall,” put the spotlight on small business and their need for one strong, unified voice.

In 1972, Bill Jones, a successful small business owner, was appointed to oversee a committee whose main goal was to attract small business membership to the Growth Association. With some skillful diplomacy, Jones created a small business owner board within the Growth Association. This board became known as the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE).

Over the years, the organization began offering educational seminars, networking events and business support for members. As the number of opportunities increased with the organization, more small business owners saw the value of becoming a COSE member within the Growth Association. 

In 2004, the Greater Cleveland Growth Association merged with the Cleveland Roundtable and Greater Cleveland Tomorrow to create the Greater Cleveland Partnership making COSE now a part of this very strong collaboration of economic development organizations.  And as a result, COSE and the Greater Cleveland Partnership together have been able to provide even more support, resources and opportunities for small companies across Northeast Ohio.  Here’s a bit more about our story…


Since the organization’s inception, COSE has been focused on advocating for the best interests of small businesses across the region.  Because small companies often times don’t have the resources, access or funds to petition political action on their own, COSE and the GCP have taken on the role of representing the voice of the business community in our advocacy efforts.  Our Advocacy team spends an inordinate amount of time talking with business owners, hosting meetings, and listening to their business needs or challenges so we can place our focus on the issues that matter the most.  And that very close contact with small businesses has allowed the GCP to have some significant advocacy wins for the business community. 

Paid Sick Leave

In 2008, COSE and GCP were instrumental in helping remove a ballot initiative that would have mandated employers to offer seven paid sick days to Ohio workers who work for companies with 25 employees or more (Issue 4). The Service Employees International Union backed the initiative and decided that it should be removed from the ballot. COSE voiced strong opposition to the measure and had planned to raise significant dollars to campaign against the issue. GCP/COSE's concern was focused on the negative impact this would have had on an already struggling economy.

Gov. Ted Strickland tried to broker a deal between backers and key opponents but was unable to identify a compromise. He and Lt. Governor Lee Fisher subsequently decided to oppose Issue 4.

Minimum Wage & Part-Time Workers

In 2016, an initiative that proposed a Cleveland-only minimum wage increase was brought forward.  This initiative would have phased in a $15 minimum wage (starting with $12 an hour in January 2018) while the rest of the state remained at $8.15.  In December, state legislation – Senate Bill 331 – passed that aimed to prohibit Cleveland and other political subdivisions from establishing minimum wage rates different from the rate required by state law.  Senate Bill 331 was signed by the Governor on December 19, 2016.  As a result of this work, petitioners announced they are suspending their effort and we are no longer facing this issue.

A separate Cleveland-only part-time workers’ initiative that was in-line to appear on the November ballot was also eventually withdrawn by petitioners.  The state legislature and Governor chose to protect employers from similar measures in the future by approving a provision – also found in Senate Bill 331 – that grants a private employer the exclusive authority to govern matters concerning work hours, location of work, scheduling, and fringe benefits. 

GCP and our partners advocated for state intervention and opposed these misguided local ballot issues due to the bevy of job-threatening regulations the part-time workers’ issue would mandate on businesses and because the Cleveland-only minimum wage issue would place Cleveland at a disadvantage, hinder job creation, business growth, and the overall momentum the City of Cleveland is now experiencing.  

Occupational License Review

A 2018 issue, SB 255 would require the legislature to review occupational licensing boards regarding their sunset and the non-partisan Legislative Service Commission could perform assessments of occupational licensing bills and state regulation of occupations.  Licensing in Ohio has resulted in business people spending hundreds, in some cases, thousands of dollars to earn a license to begin their career.  This can be damaging – particularly for small businesses – for entry into the market and competition.  After careful due diligence and meetings with the bill sponsors and upon presenting this legislation to our members, GCP supported SB 255.  GCP crafted and provided proponent testimony.  The bill passed the House by a vote of 55-27, the Senate concurred 24-8, and the Governor signed the bill.

Employer Rights

Marijuana remains classified as an illegal controlled substance under federal law.  Yet, medical marijuana technically became legal in Ohio on September 8, 2016.  As the rules and regulations are finalized, the program is to be operational no later than September 2018.  The GCP did not take a formal position on the state’s medical marijuana legislation.  Instead, our members sought to enhance employer rights and the GCP worked to secure protections included in the legislation that is now law.  Those protections, for example, state that employers can still establish and enforce drug testing, drug-free workplace, and zero-tolerance drug policies.  Our work continued in 2017 to ensure employers are properly protected as the Governor appointed a GCP/COSE board member to serve in an employer role on the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee.  The role represents employers’ views and interests as public input and proceedings continue.

Several separate state proposals were fortunately avoided that would have infringed on an employer’s hiring or human resources practices and/or breach the private property rights of businesses and property owners.

Successor Liability

Governor John Kasich signed legislation, House Bill 259, on December 22, 2015 that included a provision helping to ensure entrepreneurs will not be penalized in the form of increased workers’ compensation rates, outstanding balances, or uncovered claims costs for assuming space that was previously inhabited by a completely separate business with negative claims experience.  COSE had been a long-time advocate for reforms on this issue in order to avoid unpleasant surprises related to workers' compensation matters for business owners.

Before this legislation was passed, business owners who started a business or who moved their business to a location that was previously occupied by a completely separate company may wind up inheriting certain workers’ compensation liabilities.  A transfer of experience and/or debt – an Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) policy known as successor liability – had a negative and unanticipated impact on a business’ workers’ compensation costs.

With the approval of this legislation, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is required to reduce the transfer of negative experience to a successor employer under certain circumstances.  And, this legislation paved the way for relief for small business owners that are often unknowingly impacted until it is too late.