Show and Tell: Cities Share Best Practices at the Big Ideas for Small Business Summit

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Mayor Emanuel provided welcoming remarks at the first-ever Big Ideas for Small Business Summit in Chicago.
Mayor Emanuel provided welcoming remarks at the first-ever Big Ideas for Small Business Summit in Chicago.

City government should be a partner, not an obstacle, when it comes to small business development and retention in our communities. This is the major theme that emerged from the first-ever Big Ideas for Small Business Summit held in Chicago recently and co-hosted by NLC and the City of Chicago’s Innovation Delivery Team.

The Big Ideas for Small Business Summit provided a platform for senior economic development officials and city staff from 19 U.S. cities to meet in-person and discuss both the proven practices and common obstacles they’ve observed in their efforts to develop local “ecosystems” where new and existing businesses can thrive.

The summit participants established several overarching strategies for small business success:

• Provide entrepreneurs with access to peer networks for support and mentorship;

• Engage proactively with small business owners to create a welcoming environment;

• Establish permitting and licensing processes that are streamlined and transparent;

• Empower city staff to work collaboratively as informed and effective advocates for small businesses;

• Connect small businesses to innovative forms of capital such as crowd-sourced funding and microlending;

• Develop formal incubators to support early-stage businesses in traditional and emerging industries;

• Implement procurement partnerships to support and advertise local small businesses;

• Use data and technology to provide better support for small businesses; and

• Acknowledge and appreciate existing small businesses for their contributions to a city’s unique character

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel shared the success of the city’s 1871 incubator workspace for digital start-up businesses as well as other innovative strategies. Keynote speaker Matt Matros, founder of Chicago-based Protein Bar, advised that cities can support small businesses by maintaining a healthy “business circle of life,” which includes good transportation infrastructure, a strong workforce, and a livable city. Stephen Goldsmith, former Deputy Mayor of New York City and former Mayor of Indianapolis, highlighted the importance of eliminating burdensome city regulations that are restrictive to new small businesses, and also encouraged elevating the role of consumer feedback in determining the success of a small business.

Each city took home a short-list of action items to accomplish over the next months and years that will help make their cities better facilitators of small business development over the long run. The Big Ideas for Small Business Network will continue to collaborate on a monthly basis to discuss how to become better partners with their local small business communities.

From your perspective, how can city governments better partner with small businesses? Let me know at or post your thoughts in the comments section.