Helping businesses thrive in Seattle, one personal contact at a time
I decided to devote this e-news to the work small business people and City staff do every day to ensure small businesses successfully start up and thrive. Not every encounter is a base hit, but we make a lot of connections that do result in business success. -Sally
Lance Randall, Business Relations Manager at the Office of Economic Development
Lance Randall, one of the City's rock star business assistance people in the Office of Economic Development, starts every Friday by going through the Puget Sound Business Journal looking for Seattle businesses that haven't crossed his radar yet. When he finds one, he circles it and gives them a call or takes a trip to their storefront. He asks the store's owners about their business, maybe tries some new local chocolate, maybe does a test ride on a bike, and most importantly asks how the City of Seattle can help the owners of the place he's visiting be successful. Lance's goal is to be the guy who comes to mind first when a business owner faces a problem.
Jesse Gilliam in my office asked Lance about what his days look like and he shared some great stories. Here are a few about businesses Lance worked with in the past few months.
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Blue Water Taco Grill
Blue Water Taco Grill opened up a location in SODO a year and a half ago. Located on First Ave. S. a few blocks from Starbucks headquarters, it provides a welcome breakfast and lunch option for hungry SODO workers and visitors.
Customers, however, quickly tasted only frustration in looking for parking. Parking in the area was free all day with no time limits, which meant no turnover of spots. "It was killing us. We couldn't load or unload, people couldn't pick up their orders," said Dave deVarona, the owner of Blue Water Taco Grill.
That's when Dave contacted Lance. Lance called up the Seattle Department of Transportation and was able to work with SDOT to secure a few two hour limit parking signs in front of the restaurant. It's led to an increase in business and happier customers. "Lance was phenomenally helpful in a tough situation," says Dave. "It was really refreshing to have someone who heard what your deal was, didn't just say no, got that it was about business survival, and took us through the process. "
Mondo and Sons
Mondo and Sons on Rainier Ave. S. has been going strong in the Rainier Valley for more than 80 years. "My grandfather started Mondo and Sons in 1932 as a second job because he knew guys in the meat industry -- and it's been in the family ever since," said Mario Banchero, co-owner of Mondo and Sons. In the past few years, there's been an increased demand in the area for skilled butchers who value locally sourced, fresh meats. Mondo and Sons fits the bill and they're working with OED to find ways to expand their footprint in the Rainier Valley.
"The business has grown and we've got our eyes on expansion," Mario states. "Lance has been a constant connection to the City for us. He keeps his eyes open for us and gets in touch when he finds an opportunity that meets our needs." Lance says he'll continue to work with Mondo and Sons over the next year to help them expand their business to bring even more customers in the Rainier Valley great products.
Victrola Coffee Roasters
Lots of people bike to Victrola Coffee Roasters, in business in Pike/Pine since 2000, which is why it was so unfortunate when the bike rack in front of Victrola disappeared. A small part of the former rack remained, turning what was formerly a great place to lock up bikes into a trip hazard. Victrola owner Dan Ollis called Lance to let him know about the AWOL bike rack. "It's nice to have someone to call at the City that doesn't create more red tape," said Ollis. Lance made a few calls and was able to tell Dan that the bike rack disappeared because someone had run it over. Within 72 hours the bike rack was replaced. "Lance gets it from the business perspective," stated Ollis. "I've been in business for 25 years and this is the first time I've had an advocate within the city to work with."
Lance spends 5-10% of his time working to recruit businesses interested in setting up shop in Seattle (he's not the only person who works on that, by the way, but that's another newsletter). Lance reaches out to a number of start-up technology firms who get their start in other parts of the region to encourage them to consider taking the next stage of their business to Seattle. He connects them with resources that help them with decision-making, financing, real estate and more.
For the businesses owners out there reading this, if there's something you've been struggling with, please don't hesitate to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org). We'll get you in touch with Lance or one of his excellent colleagues.
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Supporting the small chambers that help the small businesses
Guest chef at Queen Anne Farmer's Market in early June. Sally made a green gazpacho and it was good.
The Great Recession spread around plenty of collateral damage. In addition to businesses failing or lingering on life support, we had business support organizations - neighborhood chambers of commerce and business improvement associations - falter and sometimes fold. The Alliance for Pioneer Square, the Columbia City Business Association, the Wallingford Chamber of Commerce, the MLK Business Association, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Seattle Business Association and the Capitol Hill Entrepreneurial Women are all examples of great, creative business groups that work to support individual business success and the success of neighborhood business districts or groups. Flower baskets, light pole banners, Seafair parades, art walks, pumpkin carving with chainsaws, neighborhood cleanups, extra police patrols - if you've enjoyed in any of these, you have a small chamber or business improvement association (maybe with a single staff person, definitely with lots of generous volunteers) to thank.
I'm a big fan of these organizations. Neighborhood retailers, restaurants and other businesses like bank branches and insurance offices are more powerful when they band together. To that end, with the help of many neighborhood biz leaders, I'm convening Seattle's first Small Chambers and Business Associations Conclave, Fri., Sept. 20, 8 a.m.-noon, at City Hall.
If you're on the board or you staff a business organization, or you are a business owner or manager, this event is for you. Join us for:
- A panel discussion with reporters and public relations experts on how to get more and better media coverage.
- A round of quick-fire keynote presentations from business owners and business group leaders.
- A case study on how Pioneer Square regrouped for rebirth (again).
- A resource fair of services for neighborhood chambers and business organizations.
We'll provide breakfast snacks, coffee and tea. For more information contact David Yeaworth in my office at 206 684-5328 or email@example.com.
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Skunked in recent app for New Market Tax Credits, but try, try again
Usually newsletters share only good news, but I'm going to take the opportunity to share some not-so-great news - the City of Seattle (and most applicants in the Northwest) got skunked in the latest round of applications to the U.S. Treasury Department for New Market Tax Credits. On the good side, another application deadline comes up this summer and we'll be in the mix. With a strong application.
New Markets Tax Credits allow investors to get a break on their tax bill in return for making low cost financing available for projects that produce jobs in low-income areas.
Since 2009 when the City of Seattle received its first NMTC allocation and created The Seattle Investment Fund, which I co-chair, we've allocated tax credits on $51 million worth of private investment for five projects producing 200 permanent jobs, retaining another 480 jobs that were in jeopardy, and producing 74 units of affordable and workforce housing.
Cleaning up South Lake Union in May with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.
Here's a list of the projects to which the Fund allocated credits:
- $10 million to the Pike Place Market for renovations (Downtown)
- $10 million to the Bullitt Center to help achieve Living Building standards (Capitol Hill)
- $10 million to Inscape for affordable work space for artists and other jobs (SoDo)
- $14 million to North Lot/Stadium Place under construction now bringing new retail and residents to Pioneer Square while providing more than 200 construction jobs (Pioneer Square)
- $7 million to Retail Lockbox to renovate a 35,000 square foot building and bring in 80 permanent jobs (Central District)
The Seattle Investment Fund earns interest fees when it lends the money. We've made a policy decision to pool those fees and use the dollars to help out small businesses in lower income areas with façade improvements that benefit the neighborhood. We also have now authorized use of some of these fees for small business loans. Here are a few examples you may have seen:
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Congressman Rick Larsen, Mike Bair of Boeing's 787 program, and Sally tour a 787 Dreamliner at the Paris Air Show.
When we sketched out subjects for this newsletter a few weeks ago I had no idea I would be able to include photos and details from the Seattle Chamber of Commerce/Trade Development Alliance trip to the Paris Air Show. I was a late addition to the trip thanks to a scholarship from the TDA and others elected people being busy in Olympia and with campaigns. Congressman Rick Larsen stood in - rather ran from meeting to meeting all day - for Gov. Jay Inslee. People will joke about going to Paris being "tough duty." There's no denying it was awesome to be in Paris. And going to the Air Show is serious business for our city and state. I saw the people from other states around the country who are hungry for the businesses and jobs we have. Seattle may not see itself as a Boeing town the way it used to, but our economic strength as a city and region come from the diversity of our economy and the continued strength of aerospace. We can't take it for granted. We need to keep up the investments on education, transportation infrastructure and adult job training that make us an attractive place to locate.
Sally rides with Phoenix of the Dykes on Bikes at Seattle Pride 2013. (photo by Chris "Troll" Doelling)
Neither did I know a few weeks ago when we decided on newsletter subjects how the Supreme Court would rule on the two marriage equality cases they accepted. This is such a personal issue. It's weird and important and uncomfortable and necessary that the Supreme Court would rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. I tried to not expect much. I can't be too disappointed then, right? The decision last week ruling DOMA unconstitutional (and then that the appealing party in the Prop 8 case lacked standing) was monumental for same sex couples in Seattle. Equality under the law. That this decision came after the ruling on the Voting Rights Act is bittersweet. And the decision does nothing for those same sex couples still striving in states that don't yet recognize marriage equality.
Sally and other elected officials and LGBT advocates raise the Marriage Equality flag over the Space needle. (photo by Nate Gowdy)
What I did know a few weeks ago when we sketched out the e-news subjects was that we would focus on a few small business assistance stories where city staff have made a difference. This is the bread-and-butter work of every City office whether it's the Mayor, Councilmembers, the Office of Economic Development or the line staff out and about in trucks fixing what needs fixing and answering questions from the people they encounter.
The stories above about small businesses needing a hand and having someone to call all have happy endings. Lately the owners of Deo Valente Café at Othello and Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. have had a tougher go of it. They're in a new building at what we euphemistically call a "developing light rail station area." They provide a great neighborhood café (with house-made gelato) and are beloved by the neighborhood. However, they've struggled to make it. The building owner is looking to sell and saw the way-behind-in-rent café as a negative to any potential buyer. Several of us (thanks again to Lance Randall at OED for calling the owner's agent) argued that a great café, even one behind in rent, is way better for the neighborhood than an empty, dark corner. Even great staff work can go only so far, though. It wasn't until the Othello community started to raise its voice that solutions (at least short-term ones) started appearing. It sounds like the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund will get involved with help for the café and, for now, the eviction notice is off the table. Deo Valente will remain open.
Thank you to the neighborhood people who stepped up and spoke out. Now, go to Deo Valente and treat yourself to a panini and some gelato as a reward.
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