Pilot program to introduce a small business help desk in King County
Community Business Connectors pilot program aimed at equitable recovery as businesses report worsening climate
The Port of Seattle Commission today approved $650,000 in funding to launch Community Business Connectors, an innovative two-year pilot program with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce aimed at providing direct service to underserved small businesses in King County .
The Community Business Connectors program will act like a helpdesk for small businesses, assisting them with referrals to a range of resources. Small businesses, community-based organizations, or anyone in the hub can submit a help ticket. Once a ticket is submitted through the online admission form, the Seattle Metro Chamber assigns the ticket to a “connector” – a designated organization or individual who is aware of available small business resources. This connector contacts the company directly and provides referral options for business professionals such as advisors, lenders, and attorneys.
“Businesses that have survived COVID have shown resilience, but after several listening sessions with the community, it is clear that business owners are now faced with ongoing pandemic issues and a whole new set of challenges related to affordable leases, staff shortages, inflation and rising interest rates , and more,” said Sam Cho, commissioner of the Port of Seattle. “Coming out now, while federal aid is pouring into the states and localities, gives us the best opportunity to save jobs and build stability in traditionally underserved communities and businesses.”
“Small businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic, and this is especially true for small businesses owned by people of color, who have faced higher barriers to accessing capital, receiving state and local aid, and transitioning to online sales,” he said Rachel Smith, President and CEO of the Seattle Metro Chamber. “For a just, inclusive recovery, we must ensure small businesses are given the direct support and resources they need not only to not fall behind, but to thrive.” We’re proud of this public-private partnership with the Port of Seattle—an economic development engine and Chamber member—to launch this pilot program to make it easier for small businesses across King County to connect with trusted advisors .”
Small businesses report deteriorating prospects
To better understand what small business owners need to survive the current business climate, the port has contracted with 10 community-based organizations to survey BIPOC companies how they are doing after two years of the pandemic. A total of 318 surveys in nine languages were returned at the port. The majority of the surveys came from companies representing South and East King County.
The survey results show that BIPOC-owned small businesses are facing challenges and need support:
- Only 18 percent of companies are doing better than a year ago
- Forty-seven percent of companies are worse off than they were a year ago
- Business losses, not enough customers and reduced income or unemployment are among their biggest challenges
- Businesses need help applying for financial assistance, marketing and advertising, and increasing sales.
- Fifty-four respondents indicated that they needed help pursuing government procurement opportunities.
How is your business now compared to a year ago?
Watch a video to hear directly from community-based advocate Lori Wada of the Korean American Resource Center about the challenges small business owners face, or from business owners Samuel Rodriguez and Byung Kwan Chae about their experiences over the past two years .
Why Community Business Connectors
The Community Business Connector initiative will fund and support seven to ten King County “connector” organizations to help impacted small businesses receive the critical help and resources they need to survive. The connectors provide significant reach and a link to technical support at a time when federal resources are flowing to states and local communities for recovery. The initiative supports up-to-date community-based outreach and uses resources to connect small businesses with consultants, both non-profit and for-profit local organizations.
The initiative to hire Community Connectors grew out of regional conversations surrounding the Small Business Administration‘s (SBA) Community Navigator pilot program. Economic development workers from local cities, community groups and small business consultants helped with overall program development and supported additional community engagement. Recruiting culturally and linguistically knowledgeable counselors can help bridge the gap to achieve economic justice in underserved communities.
While there are many partners in King County that offer small business services, there is no organization that can comprehensively provide the breadth of small business resources contemplated by the new Community Business Connector initiative.
The CBC program is jointly funded by the Port of Seattle, King County, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, city partners and several partners to be determined. In the first year, the Port of Seattle plans to fund $300,000 to get the new program off the ground. The Seattle Chamber will allocate $380,000 from its King County COVID-19 Local Recovery Funds to this initiative. The port will work with the Seattle Metro Chamber to implement this new small business initiative. In addition, interested city partners are providing an estimated US$ 30,000.
In year two, the port plans to support $350,000 to maintain and expand capacity by hiring three additional Business Connectors. The Seattle Chamber is providing an additional $90,000.
Peter McGraw | Port of Seattle media officer
(206) 787-3446 | [email protected]