Placemaking and Entrepreneurship

The following is the third installment of a four-part series entitled, “Re-defining the Three-Legged Stool: Placemaking as a Component of Economic Development.” (Read Parts 1 & 2)

The previous installment explored the role of placemaking in business retention and expansion as it improves the quality of life of a community and the marketability of a place. This installment considers how placemaking influences entrepreneurship and small business development.

Small Business Drives Jobs

Entrepreneurship is essential to a community’s economic dynamism. Small businesses diversify local economies, create local jobs, and increase residential and commercial development. Small businesses employed just over half of the private-sector workforce and created nearly two-thirds of net new jobs in the time period of 1993 – 2011. Furthermore, homegrown businesses are more likely to have strong roots that keep them located in a community compared to businesses that have been attracted from elsewhere.

One typical method of supporting small businesses is creating incubators – shared rental spaces that offer low-cost office amenities and, often, coaching, mentoring, and other types of support. Other ways of supporting entrepreneurs include creating small business centers, which serve as information hubs for entrepreneurs and local small businesses, and holding networking events, and connecting businesses to sources of funding.

Small Businesses Create Vitality

Small businesses also play an important role in creating unique places that enhance quality of life. Commerce in downtowns and neighborhoods is often driven by small businesses, whether retail establishments, bars and restaurants, or small companies occupying office space. These small businesses draw people into business districts and create vibrant, walkable neighborhoods that attract both residents and tourists.

Beautiful places and small businesses go hand in hand. Urbanist author Jane Jacobs wrote, “New ideas must use old buildings.” Older buildings, typically having more affordable rents, are often located in downtowns that are conducive to transit and as a critical mass of customers and office workers. The national Trust for Historic Preservation finds that cities with older, smaller buildings actually have higher density, more diversity, a greater number of small businesses and lots more entrepreneurial activity.

Footholds for Startups Activate Places

Small businesses and entrepreneurs thrive in walkable downtowns, but they can also create vibrancy in areas that could use a shot of revitalization. Creating temporary spaces like markets and kiosks allow for start-up businesses to test new ideas, while also providing an event to encourage potential to attend, therefore enlivening areas of a community that are in need of investment. The graphic below, from Thompson Placemaking, shows an incremental approach to building spaces for new businesses as part of a community revitalization strategy.

 

The graphic moves from easily implemented, temporary retail options to permanent, multi-use buildings. The tents in the first frame are seen at events such as farmers markets or holiday fairs. Generally, this level of retail is available to anyone for very little investment other than merchandise. Food trucks, trailers, pods and micro retail buildings represent the “missing middle” of retail outlets. These structures require some investment, either from the vendors themselves or from developers, but the risk is still quite low compared to signing a lease or purchasing a store. Small retail stores and mixed-use buildings require the most investment – from retailers, developers or property owners, and from the city that would benefit from their development.

Barriers to Incremental Placemaking

It is feasible that a business could grow from a tent to a trailer to a retail bay, increasing profits and employees at every step. Facilitating space for businesses at each level creates a pipeline of small businesses ready to expand into retail bays when they become vacant. Yet, in many places, regulation prevents small retail environments and harms small businesses.

For example, in New York City, food vendors must obtain a permit, but the number of applications is so high that the City is only issuing permits to licensed vendors already on the waiting list. According to a 2015 article in Eater, in the late 1970s and 80s, the number of food vending permits was reduced from 12,000 to 3,000 due to pressure from business interests and general civil unrest in the late 1970s. The article reports that this has led to existing permits being rented out for exorbitant prices on the black market, with many stories of food vendors being swindled out of permits and having to close their doors.

The Guardian profiled these challenges recently and pointed out that in San Francisco, where tech giants like Uber make billions by skirting taxi regulations, the permitting process for street vendors selling wares like fruit, beverages, and popsicles requires as much as $1,500 in application and licensing fees. Often, these vendors are immigrants who make less than $100 per day at their trade. Many have limited English proficiency, and many more lack capital to cover these startup costs.

How can Policymakers Help?

Obviously, requirements that protect the health of customers buying food are important, but legal processes that restrict small businesses unnecessarily are unfair. To help small businesses get started in informal retail environments, policy makers can do an audit of the systems that these businesses must go through with the goal of streamlining processes to make them more efficient and time-conscious. Furthermore, policy makers can examine zoning laws to understand if regulations that influence where vendors can operate are fair. If there are significant zoning regulations, it may be helpful to create something like a “Vending Overlay Zone” or other district where vending is accessible to small businesses. A focus on creating small business friendly communities often leads to better places and better quality of life.

Placemaking and Business Retention and Expansion

The following is the second installment of a four-part series entitled, “Re-defining the Three-Legged Stool: Placemaking as a Component of Economic Development.” 

The previous installment explored placemaking’s role in business attraction as it improves the quality of life of a community and the marketability of a place. This installment considers how placemaking influences business attraction and retention.

Defining Business Retention and Expansion

Business retention and expansion (BRE) is different than business attraction because it focuses on helping existing businesses already in the community to prosper and grow. Typically, the main tool of BRE is a yearly survey of businesses that economic developers send out to (or make appointments to work through in-person with) businesses in their communities. In cases where businesses are seeking to expand, economic developers can provide access to financing, in the form of revolving loan funds, grants, and other loans, or by providing access to municipal or state resources.

Mixed Uses Contribute to Improved Usability

But, even if they aren’t aware of it, economic developers are also likely engaged in business retention and expansion activities that overlap with placemaking. For example, businesses that are multi-use, such as breweries with attached tasting rooms or small-scale food manufacturers with attached kitchens, often do not fit into one zoning category — though their mix of uses is what makes them unique, and contributes to a lively neighborhood. This can make expansion difficult, and lead to cumbersome zoning negotiations, causing businesses to lose both time and money. If economic developers work with city planning staff to assist business owners in these cases, then they are helping to create more vibrant places with improved usability.

New Uses for Older Properties

As real estate tides change, economic developers will need to be creative about new uses for old properties. Retail outlets and office spaces are being repurposed for apartments, maker spaces and incubators or are being converted into space for existing businesses to expand. The success of these new uses depends on a vibrant, transit-linked, pedestrian friendly environment to attract the kind of young talent that populate these spaces.

Innovation Districts

Creating nodes of activity in centrally located, pedestrian, and transit-accessible areas can also assist with regional business retention. As shown by the Brookings Institution’s research shows, more and more companies are choosing to move from suburban corporate campuses to areas where economic, networking, and physical assets are more accessible, contributing to a rise in what has been termed “Innovation Districts.” These districts combine small businesses, bars, and restaurants with startups, institutions such as banks and universities, and large companies. The diverse mix of tenants leads to more collaboration and an attractive environment for knowledge workers.

Attracting a Quality Workforce

From assisting businesses with zoning issues to encouraging innovation districts, business retention and expansion efforts are improved when viewed through a lens of placemaking. However, the most important determinant for keeping businesses in a community and helping them to expand is a talented and plentiful workforce. Creating a place with a higher quality of life attracts more people to communities and engenders a strong bond that helps retain populations. Smart companies understand this and locate themselves where their workforce wants to live. Placemaking is part of a larger business retention and expansion effort, and offers an advantage that should be used by economic developers.

Re-defining the Three-Legged Stool: Placemaking as a Component of Economic Development

The three-legged stool of economic development is made up of business retention and expansion, business attraction, and entrepreneurship and small business development. In recent years, it has become apparent that the strength of a community’s workforce undergirds this framework. Thus, in the diagram below, workforce development has been added as a foundation for each of these activities.

Placemaking, according to Wikipedia, is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being. While the process is heavily based in design, placemaking results in more choice of housing, transportation options, and retail options, which improves people’s lives across the economic spectrum.

Placemaking enhances economic development efforts in each of the three legs of the stool, as well as through impacting workforce development. Beginning with this installment, a new series of articles in the Fourth Economy newsletter will delve into the role that placemaking has in economic development as the economy continue to transition towards the knowledge and service economies. Competition is increasing because talent and companies are tied more and more to places that support knowledge economies rather than natural resources or commodities. As the playing field levels, the competition for jobs and talent is tied to quality of place.

Often, when discussing economic development, business attraction comes to mind first. Business attraction is the process of marketing your community to firms that fit well with its already-existing advantages. Marketing can happen through an internet presence, as well as through traditional means, such as brochures or advertisements in magazines. Another tool that is used to entice business are incentives in the form of lowered taxes, financial grants, or providing infrastructure.

There are a few disadvantages to these methods. Advertisements are designed to catch the eye of site selection consultants and corporate location specialists; however, these populations likely already have access to scores of data about your community through public data bases such as the Census Bureau and private databases available via subscription services. If the story that this data tells about your community does not correspond to their needs, then no matter how much is invested in advertising, there won’t be much interest.

Incentives in the form of lowered taxes, grants, or infrastructure improvements can be an effective way to bring new businesses into a community. However, offering tax incentives can lead to a “race to the bottom” with communities attempting to outbid each other. Furthermore, offering these types of incentives can cut into school budgets, and divert funds from other priorities.

Placemaking can therefore play an important part in business attraction because it improves the quality of life of a community. Quality of life is the top reason why company executives chose to locate in a place where they themselves have to live. Improving this factor can improve the impact of advertising and decrease the need for tax incentives by providing intrinsic value for employees living in the town. While all aspects of business attraction are important, placemaking improves the product being sold, which, in turn creates a better lifestyle for both employees of new firms and existing residents.

What is the Economic Cost–or Benefit—of Sanctuary Cities?

In the past election cycle, the term “sanctuary cities” was used quite a bit, often without defining it or providing an objective view of the advantages or disadvantages of adopting these policies. Cities considering adopting these policies should consider both their values and the economic costs or benefits of implementing sanctuary policies and what is entailed in enforcing immigration policy on a local level.

In 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, began a program called Secure Communities, which encouraged local law enforcement organizations to send arrested persons’ fingerprints to ICE to check for a record of illegal immigration. If there is a match, ICE issues a detainer against the jailed individual, so that they can be held in jail, even if they are not found to have committed a crime, while ICE decides if they should be deported. Continue reading “What is the Economic Cost–or Benefit—of Sanctuary Cities?”