Being a resident of Seattle’s International District puts me within the state’s 37th Legislative District. I traveled to Olympia to meet with Rep. Eric Pettigrew to discuss one of the bills he is sponsoring on support for small businesses. While reviewing the bill at the cafe across the street from my apartment, I came across a photo of the Rep. Pettigrew meeting with local small business owners in that very same cafe and he was even sitting in the exact seat I happened to occupy at that very moment. The coincidence was too wonderful to ignore, so I contacted his staff and set up a meeting.
HB 2050 creates a new Small Business Enhancement Program within the State Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises (OMWBE). The primary goal is to give better support to small businesses so that they can expand and create jobs. The program would make a variety of business development services available to small business owners, including employee training, grant brokering, and coaching on the process of competing for state contracts.
A critical component of this bill is the process of certification for small businesses. The original version of the bill very clearly defined “small business” as “a minority, women, or socially and economically disadvantaged business enterprise that has two hundred fifty or fewer employees”. But this lanuage was replaced by “microbusinesses, minibusinesses, and small businesses” in the substitute bill. I wanted to know why this change was made and what possible benefits could come from moving away from being explicit about the bill’s target audience: businesses owned by women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations.
Unfortunately, Rep. Pettigrew was unable to be present during our appointment. His assistant, Lanna Ripp, informed me that women and minority ownership is already included within Washington State’s official definition of small businesses and that adding the language about minibusinesses and microbusinesses to the list increased the specificity at the gross revenue cap. My concern was that the bill didn’t make explicit what methods it would use to increase enrollment in these certifications. I know from working in the International District that the number of certified minority- and women-owned businesses is disproportionately small considering the population that lives here (see Preservation Green Lab’s report “Older, Smaller, Better” p.50).
For a targeted economic development policy like this to succeed, it needs to have a game plan for engaging the diverse constellation of business owners that it targets. My worry is that the lumping of all these groups under the “small business” heading indicates a lack of awareness of the variety of challenges faced by these businesses owners. The bill should explicitly address how it plans to tackle challenges like language barriers, childcare needs, and compliance with the ramp up to $15 minimum wage.