A once-in-a-lifetime event — the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act — offers Jacksonville an opportunity to strengthen its economy by supporting local small business development.
Small businesses build local wealth, with benefits for almost every aspect of the community and region. They provide diligent entrepreneurs with a path to prosperity and keep more of their economic output in the community than foreign-owned companies. This benefit is used to support schools, public safety, roads, parks and affordable housing.
They also contribute to the character and individuality of our community. But one of Jacksonville’s biggest challenges is leveling the playing field for small businesses and deliberately moving away from the “Amazon take-all” trajectory of the past decade.
Studies by economists on both sides of the political axis have repeatedly found that economic development incentives have little impact on a company’s ultimate decision to relocate to another city. In addition, these funds are better used for local quality of life issues such as infrastructure, education and health.
In fact, the 2020 Business Survey conducted by Area Development magazine found that out of 28 location selection factors, the top five factors influencing a company’s decision to relocate were availability of skilled labor, accessibility to freeways, energy availability and costs, quality of life and workforce were costs.
But how can the city set the critical pivot to realign its economic development strategies to better support local small businesses? It can start with three questions: Will investing funds create local prosperity? Will investing funds help close the racial and gender gaps in corporate governance? Will investing funds help strengthen the overall environment for small business development?
Then consider implementing the following ideas:
Build stronger infrastructure to cultivate, grow and support local small businesses through training, coaching and funding.
Bridge the racist entrepreneurship gap through programs that could include providing childcare for working parents, offering credit counseling and direct mentorship, creating opportunities to own commercial real estate, and relaxing collateral and creditworthiness requirements for small business lending .
Develop community-owned grocery stores in underserved areas like Lift Jax is doing in the Eastside.
Cultivate small-scale production and local and regional supply chains.
Buy key commercial properties and place them in a community land trust. Support corporate responsibility of employees.
Finally, encourage local small businesses and local and small-scale shopping.
Local small businesses are vital to our economy and key to a fairer future. It is now time to underpin this potential through conscious action.
DL Brown is a Jacksonville attorney who practices consulting for nonprofit arts and environmental groups.
This article originally appeared in the Florida Times-Union: Guest Column: Big Moment for Small Businesses in Jacksonville