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Encouraging Entrepreneurship in Your Communities

May 16, 2016  |  Rachel Quednau, Communications Specialist, Strong Towns
Rachel Quednau
A strong town needs strong local businesses. Local businesses pro­vide jobs and opportuni­ties for wealth creation. They can become a draw, encouraging visitors from outside your community, as well as a way for community members to support each other by buying local. Only with a thriving locally-based econ­omy—one that isn’t owned or propped up by someone six states away—can we succeed in creating sustainable jobs and lasting economic prosperity.
“Entrepreneurship” is a hot word these days. Lots of towns say they would like to attract more entrepreneurs and grow their small business communities. But how do you do it? There are many ways to encourage entrepreneurship in your community, both through gov­ernment leadership and private sector/neighborhood-level work.

The Government’s Role in Encouraging Entrepreneurship

1. Adjust zoning codes to reduce business costs.
Do your zoning codes allow for mixed-use buildings where a shop owner runs her business on the first floor and lives upstairs? Would current codes allow for a vacant home to be turned into a store? Are food trucks permitted in your com­munity? These are good questions to ask if you want to encourage small business growth. Buying or renting and renovat­ing a building for a new business can be extremely costly. If your community al­lows for creative use of space, diverse in­come streams and smaller options than the typical stand-alone store, you lower the barriers to entry for small business owners.
2. Help facilitate walkable business districts.
Walkability is a huge factor in small business success and can create fertile soil for entrepreneurship to thrive. In a concentrated, walkable neighborhood with shops and restaurants, passersby are far more likely to frequent multiple businesses than if they were just driving to a specific store in an auto-oriented area. And as a bonus, walkable neighbor­hoods in city after city across the country demonstrate far greater tax revenue per square foot than any other type of devel­opment. So help your city move toward walkable neighborhoods by slowing cars in existing business districts, widening sidewalks, and placing public benches and planters to improve the landscape. When you have the choice between us­ing land for a parking lot or a productive business, make the right choice and en­able a business instead of car storage.
3. Simplify local regulations for starting new businesses.
Make the business start-up process sim­ple. Instead of forcing entrepreneurs to jump from government office to govern­ment office filling out forms and asking questions, create a central space on your local government website that walks business owners through the process of getting started. This section can include which forms to fill out, who to contact, how long each step takes, etc. Cut out any superfluous steps if possible. Consult existing business owners in the process to find out how they got started.
4. Dedicate resources to economic gardening.
While it’s important to focus on help­ing people start businesses, a concerted effort should be put into helping busi­nesses grow. Growth presents a whole new set of challenges. Providing busi­nesses with resources to take their busi­ness to the next level is a proven way to strengthen the local economy. Visit the podcast section on the Strong Towns website at strongtowns.com to view our podcast with Chris Gibbons, a lead­ing proponent of economic gardening.

The Private Sector’s Role in Encouraging Entrepreneurship

1. Provide easy access to small business loans and/or grants.
Banks, community development corpo­rations (CDCs) and other community de­velopment financial institutions (CDFIs) are all in a position to offer loans to small businesses that are starting out. Other or­ganizations in your community may also be able to offer grants to new businesses.
2. Offer business development classes at local colleges and community education programs.
Whether it’s a full-fledged, credited class that goes in depth on how to set up a business, or just a short workshop with tips on online marketing, local education opportunities can play a helpful role in encouraging successful business growth. One-on-one business counselor can also be a beneficial option for entrepreneurs to utilize.
3. Host a small business day.
Designate a Saturday (summer and fall are great times for this) to encourage patronage of local businesses. This could include outdoor music, food stands, and other fun activities, or it could simply be a day when you invite people to check out their local businesses. Some busi­nesses may choose to offer special dis­counts on this day. Make sure to adver­tise the event around your town.
4. Get organized.
Create a small business guide on your town’s website listing local businesses, days/time they are open, and descrip­tions of their services. This is a great way to promote existing businesses to your town, as well as attract customers who may be visiting your community. Anoth­er way to get organized is to develop a small business association or chamber of commerce to help local businesses work together and promote their interests.
5. Get Social.
Programs such as “One Million Cups,” “Business after Hours” and “Start-up Drinks” are great ways to help entrepre­neurs network, share and be inspired by one another.
Jason Schaefer also contributed content for this article. This article along with others can be found at strongtowns.org.
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