Small business and entrepreneurship support in communities of color. Austin is facing explosive population and economic growth resulting in an affordability crisis. As the city gets more popular, more pressure falls on city services, housing supply, infrastructure, mobility, affordability and much more. As newer, wealthier transplants move into older neighborhoods, many longtime residents and business owners feel squeezed out, and most of them leave the city seeking cheaper housing and rental spaces as well as more navigable permitting and regulation processes.
The Equitable Economic Development fellowship proves an opportunity to Austin to intentionally focus on cultivating, retaining and growing local small businesses and entrepreneurs in communities of color. As Austin thrives, the City is committed not to lose what Keeps Austin Weird. Austin has emerging small urban manufacturing, creative and food industries in a city known as a tech and corporate hub. Austin has relied on traditional economic development incentive strategies to attract jobs, enjoying a booming but unequitable economy. Ensuring all residents share the city’s prosperity is a priority for the Mayor.
Two potential areas of opportunity that could help Austin achieve its goals for this fellowship are: 1) taking a closer look at economic incentive reform and 2) permitting reform, along with a robust community engagement strategy. A robust community engagement and outreach would help the EED team dive deeper into what aspiring and current entrepreneurs and business owners face. The City needs to better understand the community’s challenges – language barriers, higher levels of unemployment, lower educational achievement, less access to small business information, permitting issues, or barriers to acquiring the capital needed to start or grow businesses.
The City of Austin has an existing Small Business Program, housed in the Economic Development Department, which fosters job creation and supports the growth of new and existing businesses by providing capacity building information, tools, and resources. The focus is on developing and empowering small businesses by strengthening their business knowledge and capabilities. As effective as these programs are, there is room to improvement and intentionally foster success and equity in Austin’s economy.