How El Paso, Texas, is Working to Support Small Business Development
By partnering with community organizations, the city is making it easier for business owners to access capital, training and other resources.
The following blog post is part of the City Accelerator initiative, a collaboration between Governing, the Citi Foundation and Living Cities that aims to speed the adoption of innovative local government projects within and across cities that will have a significant impact on the lives of their residents, especially those with low incomes.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the City of El Paso, Texas, has recently become a city on the rise. Apart from perennially being one of the safest big cities in the country, El Paso has garnered some impressive accolades related to quality of life and economic development. It should come as no surprise given the amount of public investment that has been made in El Paso over the last 10 years or so. Investment that has essentially rebuilt much of the city’s quality-of-life infrastructure. Today, businesses are starting to take notice of the changes and are looking at El Paso as a place where they can successfully operate.
To that end, the City of El Paso is working to create an economic environment specifically for small, locally-owned businesses in which they can not only survive but thrive. The idea is to take inventory of the existing resources that each city department provides and combine those with resources provided by other business support organizations in the city. This is happening by forming cross-functional teams that consist of multiple City of El Paso Departments, El Paso County government departments, business support organizations and small business owners themselves.
Through the leadership of El Paso’s Economic Development Department, which is spearheading the initiative, the City has integrated local small business resources into a singular effort branded Accelerate EP. As part of the program, funded by a grant from the Citi Foundation and Living Cities, El Paso has formalized relationships with organizations that serve the small business community through the use of Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs). The City’s partners include El Paso Community College’s Small Business Development Center, Workforce Solutions Borderplex, the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber, the County of El Paso’s Economic Development Office, the Hub of Human Innovation and the UTEP Center for Hispanic Entrepreneurship. By engaging and consolidating the efforts of these organizations, Accelerate EP is making it easier to access capital, training and resources for businesses for people of color and small business owners at large.
Why is this effort important? While all cities make a concerted effort to attract large companies and manufacturers to expand their respective tax bases and improve economic attainment, it is imperative for cities like El Paso to improve conditions for small businesses, which are often the drivers of local economic growth. El Paso Deputy City Manager for Economic Development Ret. Colonel Carey Westin indicated as such in a presentation he made to more than 40 small business owners this past April. The businesses along with city officials and other Accelerate EP partners were on-hand at a networking and training event sponsored by Accelerate EP.
Colonel Westin remarked that, “If you look at the core of how you grow a city, you grow a city with small business. If you look across the country, about 60 to 80 percent of jobs created come from small businesses.” He went on to tell the group that El Paso recognizes how vital each small business owner is in supporting economic growth in the city.
While taking inventory of services from the city and its partners was a logical first step, El Paso didn’t stop there. In February 2019, Accelerate EP distributed a survey to find out what resources and training were lacking. It received over 150 responses from local businesses. It then compiled the list of resources and began the process of acquiring them and making them more accessible. Accelerate EP now works in concert with partners to reach out to the business community to ensure owners are aware of where they can go to get the support they need to grow.
While Accelerate EP is still in the initial stages of development, it has already helped develop a more focused effort for supporting businesses owned by people of color. In the future, businesses will be able to visit a central location or go online to find information on such priorities such as funding, capacity building, accounting, networking, government contracting, employee training, marketing and promotion, and more. In addition to a centralized online resource guide, partners will continue to collaborate to offer training workshops and seminars to help small businesses grow. It is just one more way El Paso is becoming a community of excellence by working with and listening to the local community and taking action based on their needs.