Economic Development Roundup: National Small Business Week Edition

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With National Small Business Week events taking place across the country, we’re sharing a few stories about how cities are supporting small businesses and startups in their communities. If you have a small business story to share, tells us at robbins@nlc.org or @robbins617.

The Institute for Local Self Reliance’s (ILSR) most recent business survey found 59 percent of independent retailers are concerned about rising rental costs. Strategies to help mitigating sky-rocketing commercial rents are therefore an important and emerging focus for cities. (Getty Images)
A recent business survey found 59 percent of independent retailers are concerned about rising rental costs. Strategies to help mitigating sky-rocketing commercial rents are therefore an important and emerging focus for cities. (Getty Images)

Boston Announces First-Ever Strategic Small Business Plan. “What’s your business plan?” is a common question city staff are asked from business owners seeking assistance. In Boston, city leaders recognized the need to ask themselves this same questions, and determine the city’s own “business plan” for supporting local entrepreneurs. The result? The city’s first-ever strategic Small Business Plan. After extensively interviewing key stakeholders, the city developed a strategic plan that aims to strengthen the small business economy with a particular eye towards social inclusion and equity. Among the plan’s main action-items are to constructing a streamlined small business resource center, creating industry-specific peer networks, and helping minority and women business owners scale up their enterprises. The city also plans to partner with key business support organizations to ensure that their services are effectively meeting the needs of small businesses in Boston.

Public Libraries Serve as Coworking Spaces for Business Owners. One of the greatest ways a city can support entrepreneurs is by giving them a space to convene, connect, and create. Now more than ever, public library systems are fulfilling this role. At the American Library Association’s recent policy convening we learned about library-based business support programs in Dallas and Cuyahoga County in Ohio. Sari Feldman, Executive Director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library, shared how the ENCORE Entrepreneurs program delivers free workshops on business planning, marketing, building a website, accessing capital, and other vital business development topics. Similarly, the Dallas B.R.A.I.N for Small Business program leverages local libraries as hubs for entrepreneurs. Dallas city leaders launched the program to help fill gaps in access to small business support services across the city. The Dallas B.R.A.I.N. model co-locates within a library branch a representative from a local microlender, the Small Business Administration, the Small Business Development Center, SCORE, and a local community college. This streamlined access to resources makes life easier for local business owners and also helps build “entrepreneurship literacy” in communities where it may not already be encouraged.

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Mitigating Sky-Rocketing Commercial Rents. Particularly in hot-market cities, accessing affordable commercial space is becoming increasingly difficult for small businesses. The Institute for Local Self Reliance’s (ILSR) most recent business survey found 59 percent of independent retailers are concerned about rising rental costs. Strategies to help mitigating sky-rocketing commercial rents are therefore an important and emerging focus for cities. ILSR provides a peek into how these policy tools are emerging in the new report Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities are Doing About It. One standout policy proposal is Salt Lake City’s “Buy Your Building” program, which provides city financing to business owners looking to purchase property. Another is Seattle’s efforts to attract local business to set up shop in the renovated King Street Station by offering favorable and flexible lease terms, including affordable rent increases. Reporter Oscar Perry Abello from Next City also covered this issue and ILSR’s report.

Inclusive Growth Opportunities for Entrepreneurs. Lastly, many cities recognize that small business ownership is a pathway to economic success that may be out of reach for some individuals. Unfortunately, gender and racial equity among entrepreneurs and small business owners is lagging behind our increasingly diversifying cities. To this end, strategies for promoting inclusive growth are crucial for strengthening local economies. A few great examples are the Inclusive Startup Fund in Portland, Ore., the equity investing program from The Enterprise Center in Philadelphia, and Code Tenderloin in San Francisco, which provides avenues for formerly homeless individuals to tap into the city’s hot high-tech industries.

About the Author: Emily Robbins is Principal Associate for Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter @robbins617.