After Amazon announced it was going to open a second headquarters, the Seattle City Council decided it needed to start meeting with the behemoth corporation, carefully orchestrating who would attend so they didn’t run afoul of open meetings laws.
Small businesses around town haven’t yet gotten the same sort of attention.
“I feel like small business has lost its voice in this city over the last few years,” said Tracy Taylor of Capitol Hill’s Elliott Bay Book Company.
That will change in the coming months. Mayor Jenny Durkan has convened a Small Business Advisory Council and the group plans to have its first meeting this week on Wednesday, February 21st. Taylor is one of the council’s four co-chairs.
Taylor’s comments about the loss of a voice were echoed by others with strong Capitol Hill connections on the council.
“The city is changing so rapidly, and there’s so much at stake,” said Rachel Marshall of Rachel’s Ginger Beer and part of the ownership behind Capitol Hill’s Montana and Nacho Borracho. “Small business owners, who employ so many people, will have a seat at the table.”
“I think there is a growing divide in our city regarding what small businesses contribute to the diversity, character and charm of our city and how we as a community maintain, create, sustain this landscape,” said Donna Moodie, owner of 14th and Union’s Marjorie and another co-chair of the council.
Our small businesses are the heart and soul of Seattle. Joined with business owners across Seattle, I signed an Executive Order to create a Small Business Advisory Council pic.twitter.com/diOyGBom9f
— Mayor Jenny Durkan (@MayorJenny) November 30, 2017
According to the mayor’s office, there are about 36,500 businesses in Seattle with 50 or fewer employees. They employ about 200,000 people.
The small business council has 26 members, each serving two-year terms, representing a wide array of industries, from retail and restaurants, to child care and oil sales.
Taylor, general manager at Elliott Bay where Mayor Durkan announced the formation of the council in November, praised the council’s makeup, noting not only diversity of industries represented, but also noting the number of minority-owned businesses, and a wide distribution of businesses throughout the city.
Capitol Hill is well represented on the council. In addition to Taylor, Moodie, and Marshall, there are also representatives from Molly Moon’s, Crybaby Studios, Terra Plata, Marination, and the Queer/Bar and Lost Lake family of businesses. You can check out the full roster participating in the small business council here:
Taylor said she hopes small businesses will be able to weigh in on the sorts of issues where they may typically be overlooked. The city, for example, is considering implementing a head tax to fund homelessness services.
Taylor said that when people think about taxing businesses, the conversation often starts and stops with Amazon and a handful of other large employers, but it doesn’t always consider what it might do to the neighborhood shops and restaurants.
“We don’t have that mechanism. Don’t have a lawyer. Don’t have big bucks,” Taylor said.
In addition to the larger issues confronting small business, some members plan to advocate on more specific topics. Joey Burgess of Queer/Bar and director of operations for the restaurant group that includes Big Mario’s, Lost Lake and the Comet Tavern said he hopes to champion LGBTQIA+ and nightlife businesses.
“I want to prioritize the preservation of culture, community, and safety in our LGBTQIA+ neighborhoods, most of which is fostered and maintained by local small business and nonprofits,” he tells CHS.
Burgess also hopes to work with the city on a wide array of nuts and bolts issues like permitting, construction, and public projects. The current system, Burgess said, often disadvantages small businesses.
Moodie said that she wants to share her story, and also to hear from other small business owners and work to become a model for incubation and success.
Marshall, who notes she is in both the manufacturing and retail businesses, said she hopes to be a voice for those industries. She also would like to find ways to encourage affordable housing, “so the people working with me don’t have to move to Kent.”
While she recognizes it’s a larger issue than just Seattle, Marshall also wants to work to close the wage gap between men and women.
— Mayor Jenny Durkan (@MayorJenny) February 11, 2018
Groups like this one are routinely formed by governments. Just as routinely, they turn out to be little more than a feel-good exercise whose suggestions are ignored. Marshall said she’s been given no reason to believe that might happen, and she trusts the mayor isn’t simply giving small businesses lip service.
Taylor said that all members of the City Council had expressed interest in the council and hearing what they have to say. Taylor was optimistic about the role they will play and said neither she, nor any of the other co-chairs want to waste their time and energy. So they are working to start in quickly and already have some ideas about how the group might organize itself and start discussing issues.
“I think, going forward, we can have a voice,” Taylor said.
The Small Business Advisory Council will meet at least quarterly. Meetings will not typically be open to the public.
Mayor Durkan, meanwhile, is scheduled to deliver her first State of the City address Tuesday starting at 11 AM from Rainier Beach High School. You can watch the address live here via seattlechannel.org.