Podcast: Making Critical Resources More Available

How the City of El Paso leveraged partnerships and the local library to support small business growth
June 23, 2020 AT 11:00 AM

The City Accelerator initiative is a collaboration between Governing, the City 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.

Small businesses, especially those owned by people of color, are threatened by the financial impact of COVID-19. A network of practitioners dedicated to the prosperity of small businesses matters now more than ever. Together, five cities -- Atlanta, El Paso, Long Beach, Newark and Rochester -- partnered with City Accelerator to explore how they can play a role in facilitating the equitable growth of their local businesses. With support from subject-matter expert, Rod Miller, President and CEO of Ascendant Global, cities identified and implemented inclusive strategies to help their local businesses thrive.

Listen to learn how the City of El Paso partnered with City Accelerator to support the growth of an inclusive business ecosystem. For immediate guidance on how the City of El Paso is supporting small businesses during COVID-19, check out the resources on its website.

This podcast series was recorded live from Long Beach in June 2019, where the cities gathered to share lessons learned and successes from their participation in the City Accelerator. In this episode, learn about how the City of El Paso partnered with local anchor institutions and leveraged their local library to make resources more accessible to small businesses and businesses owned by people of color.

Guests featured in this episode include:

If you’re interested in learning more or bringing these lessons to your city, sign up to be notified when the City Accelerator Local Business and Job Growth Implementation Guide is released.

Transcript:

Paul Taylor: Live from MADE by Millworks Space for Creatives in Long Beach, California, the home of the original Rosie the Riveter! This is Living for the City!

Five cities on a mission to level up the economic opportunities for entrepreneurs of color -- a mission supported by the nonprofit, Living Cities, and the Citi Foundation. I'm Paul Taylor, from Governing, along with Rod Miller, Founder, President and CEO of Ascendant Global, and the cohort lead for this 18-month journey on local business and job growth.

This time out, El Paso! It's the only border city in the cohort of five that were field-testing ideas about local business and job growth.

Jack Golindo: My name is Jack Golindo. I'm the Marketing and Customer Relations Coordinator for the El Paso Public Library in El Paso, Texas. Essentially, I take the programs and services that the Public Library offers, as well as some from the City of El Paso, and I promote those to the population of El Paso.

Paul: When we talk about the environment in which businesses operate, we tend to use this five dollar word called, “ecosystem.” On the ground in El Paso, what did that environment look like? How did it operate for those businesses before, and what is after starting to look like?

Jack: Well, El Paso is one of the largest bicultural communities in the country and even in the world. We sit right across the border from Juárez, Mexico. As one of my colleagues said yesterday, ‘If you're looking across the landscape In El Paso, it's hard to tell where El Paso ends, and Mexico begins.’

People are aware of the illegal immigration problem, but not everybody is aware that there's tens of thousands of people, from both El Paso and Juárez, that go to work in a different country every day. They're constantly coming back and forth from these two countries. So, we really are one community. We consider Juárez our sister city. We speak Spanish. The vast majority of people in the community are of Spanish-origin or Hispanic.

Given this background, what we wanted to do was to take some of the resources that were available for small businesses and businesses of color-- take these resources and make them more available to the people that really needed them. What we found was that a lot of these resources were already being provided, but a lot of the organizations were working in silos. They weren't necessarily pulling together to make those resources available.

Paul: Speaking of making those resources available -- I suppose in retrospect it seems obvious -- but you chose the library as kind of the epicenter for those activities. What was the thinking there?

Jack: Well, one of the essential tasks of our Accelerate EP project was to bring these resources together, right? We wanted to combine them. What we say is, ‘We're the convener.’ The city is acting as a convener. In our library in El Paso, we're helping people to make business plans. We're helping people market their small businesses. We have a place at the main downtown library, called the Workplace Center, where a workforce solutions board is actually operating out of the main library, helping people find jobs. We’re on the ground floor actually helping people every day to establish businesses, get jobs, get housing, and all of the things that our community needs, our target group needs.

That's why we wanted to engage libraries; make sure that the business community knew that they could come to any public library. If they want to have a business meeting, we have the technology available. There's still a big digital divide in our country. The haves and have nots. That's something that we all need to be aware of as well. Not everybody has the digital technology that we have. We provide that at the public libraries, and anybody is welcome to use it.

Rod Miller: How have businesses responded to the idea? I think when people think about libraries, they think about libraries as very natural places for people to go, and find books and resources. But, I don't know that many libraries have traditionally been used as a resource for businesses.

Jack: Not officially. Not like we were doing it. But, there's a lot of great success stories. I think the guy from Dollar General, and I don't know what his name is, but he started his business, or he got his education from libraries. So, he gives a lot of money to libraries every year. There's a lot of successful people that have gotten their education from libraries. We're starting to do that in a capacity where we actively solicit folks that want to start their business.

Rod: That's great. And, I know you guys have this Ask Laura software, which is really leveraging artificial intelligence. What made you guys decide to go that route, and how is it working?

Jack: Again, it's just making the resources that we have more available to more people. We have this artificial intelligence, virtual assistant on our city of El Paso website. So, we wanted to incorporate that into our Accelerate EP program. We generated a list of questions that were most asked by the people that come to our website or to our libraries seeking information on how to start their business. How do I register my business? Where do I get a business plan? How do I find financing?

Some of these questions, we incorporated those into the Ask Laura program. So, somebody who visits the city website can come in and Laura will pop up. They can type in a question and Laura will help them find the answer to that question. It's about accessibility, making it easier for folks to find the information that they're looking for on our website.

Paul: For the out of towners, who’s Laura?

Jack:  Laura is actually based on an employee of the City of El Paso in our Legal Department, Laura Gordon.

Rod: You have such a large population that speaks Spanish as well. Is Laura able to help in both Spanish and English?

Jack: That's absolutely correct. Yeah. Anyone who needs information in Spanish can actually Ask Laura, and Laura will translate the answer for them.

Paul: Famous in her own time.

Rod: Awesome. That's great stuff. One of the things that's so important to this work is working with others. A lot of communities think that they can go do it on their own in terms of developing these strategies. I understand that you guys have developed some robust partnerships. Can you talk a little bit about what those partnerships look like and what tools you used to make them happen?

Jack: We wanted to create an environment where we took all of these organizations that were working independently, combined their resources, and allowed them to serve more people in a different way and under a different paradigm. What we did was -- we asked them to partner with us as collaborators to enter into a formal agreement with us through Memorandums of Understanding (MOU). We asked them to sign these MOUs and to commit to providing these resources in a more collaborative way to make them more accessible to the people that really needed them.

With the City acting as the conduit, as a convener, we found that there was more trust in doing that. They listened to us. We already had existing relationships with many of these organizations. They weren't formalized, but we had them. Again, it's about making the resources more available. These organizations saw each other as competitors. They were competing for memberships. They were competing for paid trainings, and that kind of thing. We asked them to put all of that aside to make sure that we were serving the community as best we could as a collaborative, with the City and the City departments acting as a conduit. We were able to offer trainings on a much higher level.

What we found was that a lot of the people who were asking for these training sessions needed to do it on a more convenient basis. They didn't have time for a classroom setting. These are very, very busy people that are coming in, many times on the weekends, early in the mornings, late in the afternoons. We wanted to make those trainings available on a one-on-one basis.

One of my colleagues, Albert, he took the bull by the horns. He contacted a lot of these folks directly. We were doing a lot of the legwork for the businesses. We would make sure that the businesses knew what training was coming up. We contacted them or Albert contacted them. Again, taking the bull by the horns, making sure that they knew these trainings were available and how they could access them.

Rod: You mentioned trainings as one of the options or one of the types of resources. What other sorts of resources were there? Capital? What other technical assistance? Could you speak to some of the other types of supports that some of the other organizations provided?

Jack:  Sure. These organizations -- from the Small Business Administration, the Small Business Development Center, and Chambers of Commerce -- they provide all kinds of resources to take a business from the ground, all the way up. So, they were providing information on how to access capital. They're providing resources on how to do your taxes, how to establish a business from the very onset to provide information that these businesses need.

A lot of these businesses start out as mom and pop shops operating out of the garage. They don't have the necessarily education or the formal training that it takes to start a successful business. We were making sure that kind of information was being provided to them.

Paul: Very good. Great Story. Thank you, Jack.

 
 
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