Frank DeTillio remembers what it was like when he first took office as president of the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce 25 years ago. Cell phones, the Internet and instant solutions were still at least a decade away. Instead, when businesses called him with a problem, they were thrilled if the chamber was able to research it and have a resolution within a week.

Now, as the chamber celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, the goals remain the same as they did that first year — helping businesses of all sizes grow and thrive within the county. Their means to do that have simply changed through the years.

“I think the chamber plays a specific role in the economic-development processes in the county,” says DeTillio, who has served as president and CEO since its inception. “One of the things it does well is build collaborations between companies that have a positive impact on the economy in Lorain County.”

The chamber remains instrumental in assisting large corporations, while playing a key role in developing programs to aid small businesses. For example, it helped FirstEnergy develop a better power grid for businesses. It has also played a key role in the development of the Lorain County Growth Partnership and the creation of the GLIDE program that is headquartered at Lorain County Community College.

The growth partnership works with county organizations and businesses to compete more effectively in a regional marketplace. GLIDE, which stands for Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise, provides a core team of people who help entrepreneurs launch a new business. The chamber helped GLIDE file the paperwork with the IRS to create a foundation that can offer financial backing to sound ideas that need capital to get off the ground.

“As we continued to develop the process with GLIDE, we identified the fact there was a void in capital,” DeTillio says. “We worked very diligently to try and build a working capital team. When you have money in place to help entrepreneurs, that perks people up from Northeast Ohio and even further than that. You get a chance to look at applications and sort through them for winners and companies that have a chance to succeed.”

None of that would be possible without the help of the Chamber of Commerce, which is helping businesses to survive what is perhaps the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. DeTillio stresses to business owners of all sizes that pulling in and contracting is not the way to survive an economic downturn. Instead, it’s imperative for businesses to try to locate the next hot trend and purchase new technology and equipment or perhaps even retrain employees when necessary to take advantage when it strikes.

“We can’t run people’s businesses, but we can try to create a climate where the businesses succeed,” DeTillio says. “Don’t just sit over in the corner and lick your wounds. Now is the time for self-evaluation to prepare yourself. Being in this business as long as I have been, I understand the cycle. Business is always in a cycle. There are really great times and really negative times. We have strategies for how to be able to cope with each of those.”