The small-business lobby has persuaded Minneapolis to pay more attention to what is driving the revitalization of commercial areas and filling the city with restaurants, boutiques, auto-repair and thrift shops.
The City Council, backed by Mayor Betsy Hodges, has directed the city’s development agency to establish a several-person small-business “navigator,” office, focused solely on helping small businesses trying to open or expand shops deal with the plethora of rules, licenses and different municipal agencies.
Council Member Andrew Johnson, an IT professional who once operated a small business, on Friday amended the 2017 city budget to include the navigator office in a move that was unanimously approved by the Ways and Means Committee. The measure now heads to the full council.
Johnson said there will be no budget implications because the mayor and council simply are directing the Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) agency to redeploy people into a small business-focused one-stop office. However, inserting the office into CPED’s budget sends a clear signal.
“We need a team of problem-solvers,” Johnson said. “We also need a one-page checklist on how to open a restaurant or an auto body-repair shop. We need a small business online portal. This shouldn’t be based on who you know.”
Small businesses who are taking over space or trying to expand, long have complained that they have to go to different agencies to get approvals for building improvements, food-handling or other licenses and often incur cost overruns because of delays or a missed approval.
They often complain to council members, who function as economic-development ward bosses. The council members intervene with different agencies to get storefronts fixed up and occupied. There has been a commercial renaissance in many frayed-edged city neighborhoods led by small businesses disproportionately owned by women and immigrants.
Organizations such as the Main Street Alliance and the Metro Independent Business Alliance (MetroIBA) said the process for unwitting entrepreneurs would be improved with a better small-business gateway system.
“As a small-business man whose family had a business in Minneapolis for 73 years, even with my knowledge and access to people in the city [government], I was stymied at times as to where to go for direction,” said Harvey Zuckman, a retired electronics shop owner who is a volunteer consultant with Metro IBA. “I often ended up just calling my council member. Some of these new business owners don’t have a clue. They go from department to department. They need one person tasked with assisting small business to follow through and explain what they need to do to comply and find the resources that are available. Whether city, county or state.”