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April 13, 2012

[caption width="250" caption=" Kathy Kotowski and Dave Newland attempt to overcome challenges of the recession by opening FirstLight HomeCare in Powell, a franchised business specializing in non-medical in-home care. (Gazette | Kate Liebers) "][/caption]

KATE LIEBERS

Staff Writer

When the recession knocked Kathy Kotowski out of the job she held for 25 years, she decided it was time to become her own boss.

On March 1, shortly before the one-year anniversary of her former company’s downsizing, Kotowski opened FirstLight HomeCare in Powell with a former high school classmate Dave Newland.

“I’ve read that it’s good, when the economy is down, to start something new,” Kotowski said. “For me, I didn’t have a choice.”

Kotowski, who had worked in health care sales management, said she was immediately drawn to the idea of working with the FirstLight franchise, which specializes in providing non-medical home care for the elderly or handicapped.

Newland, who had run his own building and remodeling business for nearly 28 years, said he was eager to apply his recruiting and hiring skills to the new company.

The franchise has locations in 18 states and 11 sites in Ohio. The latest establishment marks the second for Central Ohio and the first for Delaware County.

Kotowski, 53, and Newland, 54, considered their venture as a way to create positive change from tough times.

Kotowski and Newland had not seen each other since high school when they stumbled over each other’s Facebook pages. Kotowski was living in Cleveland at the time and Newland was in Toledo when they agreed to become business partners in Delaware County.

Additionally, during the times in which positions were being eliminated, a new market was emerging: Elderly care for the baby boomers.

Both Kotowski and Newland were interested in tending to this market, especially after watching loved ones face sensitive issues about living assistance.

“My mom is 87 and extremely healthy, and I know that she’s kind of rare,” Kotowski said. “A lot of people her age are either not here or in nursing homes. I hope that she can stay in her home until the very end.”

Although she said there was a growing need for elderly care services in Delaware County, Kotowski said she expects to serve people outside this demographic. Young adults with injuries or people with handicaps could participate in the program, she said.

Frances Jo Hamilton, executive director of the economic development group Main Street Delaware, Inc., understands the appeal of starting one’s own business regardless of the economic times.

“I think it’s very attractive to become your own boss,” Hamilton said. “Certainly something you can have a little more control over.”

She doubted the likeliness of Kotowski and Newland’s response to the recession becoming a trend, however.

“Small business is a really tough business,” Hamilton said. “I’m not sure that’s the answer to the recession.”

Kotowski and Newland are optimistic.

In their second month of operation, the partners have hired three caregivers and expect to hire up to four more in the next week. Kotowski said it is still too soon to tell how broad the clientele base will be, but said she expects calls to fill the books any day.

Newland said he could see the business carrying the two into their retirement, with the ability to eventually expand to different locations.

For now, they said, they are happy with their choice to start in Powell.

“It’s amazing how much people want to help you,” Newland said. “And it’s the same way the other way around, we can do things to help them.”

FirstLight is open at 503 Village Park Drive in Powell. More information can be found by calling 614-846-8009 or visiting firstlighthomecare.com.