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Office of Economic Development aims to grow Boston’s small businesses

Sandra Larson | 1/25/2017, 11:08 a.m.
Boston has 40,000 small businesses that provide some 170,000 jobs, nearly half of all employment in the city, according to ...
Karilyn Crockett (above at left) spoke during a Certification and Contracting with the City workshop that was hosted at the Bolling Building recently. Photo: Courtesy City of Boston

Boston has 40,000 small businesses that provide some 170,000 jobs, nearly half of all employment in the city, according to the city’s Small Business Plan released last May. And the vast majority of the city’s small businesses — both downtown and in Boston’s many neighborhoods — are “micro-businesses” with fewer than 10 employees and less than $500,000 in revenue.

The Bolling Building held a Certification and Contracting with the City workshop recently.

The Bolling Building held a Certification and Contracting with the City workshop recently.

On the web

Mayor’s Office of Economic Development: www.boston.gov/departments/economic-development

City of Boston Small Business Plan: http://bit.ly/2jLJq6v

Guide to starting a business in Boston: www.boston.gov/starting-business

Recognizing the importance of small business opportunities for livelihoods and wealth building, the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development (OED), formed in 2014 by the incoming Walsh administration, has been ramping up its efforts to support existing and new small businesses, providing a range of services to help them get a foothold, survive and thrive.

Karilyn Crockett, the OED’s Director of Economic Policy and Research and Director of its Office of Small Business, told the Banner that much of the city’s work with small businesses is guided by findings in the Small Business Plan report. The report identifed a clear need by small business owners for both direct technical assistance, including connections with mentors and coaches, and greater awareness of the resources available to them.

“There are about 250 different business service organizations around Boston, but business owners could only name two or three,” Crockett said. “We’ve taken that as a mandate.”

Through the OED, small businesses can get answers about licensing and permits and can access services such as on-site technical assistance, design assistance for storefront improvements and energy efficiency evaluations, all at no charge.

The OED runs a variety of workshops. An upcoming session will cover using Instagram to promote a business. In East Boston, a set of local small businesses gathered recently, with the help of the East Boston Chamber of Commerce and the East Boston Merchants Association, for a workshop with the OED’s technical assistance providers.

“What we’ve found in East Boston and other neighborhoods is that leveraging existing business organizations can help us be more effective,” said Crockett. “We were able to bring people together.”

Even as Boston has experienced economic growth in the past decade, communities of color continue to have higher unemployment and lower average incomes.

“Small businesses contribute to social equity and inclusion by serving as an entry point for workers with diverse education and experience levels,” the Small Business Plan report notes. “A vibrant small business ecosystem is a cornerstone of efforts to extend economic opportunity to all residents.”

Roughly one-third of Boston’s existing small businesses are minority-owned. The plan outlines policies and programs aimed at leveling the playing field, ensuring that under-represented groups have access to opportunities, networks and resources crucial to small business success.

Lauren Jones, the OED’s Director of Business Strategy, said her office is working to prepare a pipeline of the city’s local youth for opportunities in the area’s booming high tech sector by connecting with schools and summer jobs programs and partnering with Hack.Diversity, an initiative that connects black and Latino students with internships and mentorships with professionals of color in the tech industry.