Business advocate is not a term often associated with District 3’s socialist City Council representative, but that could be changing. Following up on her vocal support for 23rd Ave businesses struggling to weather destabilizing road construction, City Council member Kshama Sawant will be hosting a small business summit Wednesday night at the Eritrean Community Center.
“Just as working people in our city need to organize to win social and economic justice, small businesses also have to come together to have their voices heard by a political establishment that primarily serves the interests of big business,” Sawant said in a statement. “Businesses owned by women, people of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community especially face a constant struggle to survive.”
The agenda appears to be open to whatever small business owners think will help them fight against the interests of “the wealthy and big developers.” Sawant laid out a few ideas to get things started:
- Commercial rent control
- Portable retirement accounts for employees
- Expanded late-night transit
- Expanded social services for the homeless
- Municipal bank & low-interest loans
- Small business priority for commercial leasing
- A Seattle small business task force
Sawant has criticized large corporations for eroding small business but her fight for $15 had a chilling effect on many local, small biz owners. That relationship began to thaw in October when she announced plans to pursue commercial rent control for small businesses in Seattle.
The successful protest against 23rd Ave road construction was not a quite a “small business versus big developer” issue, but Sawant was encouraged by neighborhood owners uniting around a cause. A Sawant staffer said she wants to keep the momentum going by applying the strategies used to unite workers around $15 an hour to small businesses struggling against displacement.
Among her first steps will be organizing a Seattle small business task force, the Sawant rep said. For business owners interested in getting involved, Wednesday night’s meeting will probably be a good start.
The task force will likely be the jumping off point for moving ahead with a commercial rent control plan. Sawant recently told CHS her staff is engaged in ongoing conversations around City Hall and the business community about the proposal. So far, Sawant has not put forward any details on how it could work. The legality of such a ordinance would certainly come into question as rent control is currently banned in the state. Sawant says its likely that the law only applies to residential rent.
Meanwhile, after spending years fighting for Capitol Hill small businesses at City Hall, Michael Wells has landed a job working on the inside. The former director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce has started work for Seattle’s Office of Economic Development as a business advocate. “It’s going to be a little bit of a strange transition,” said Wells, a longtime book merchant on Capitol Hill before his years leading the chamber.
Wells will be working with small business owners across the city to help them utilize OED’s programs, including connecting owners with lenders, business coaches, and relocation assistance.
The Progressive Small Business Summit will be held Wednesday, March 30th at 7pm, at the Eritrean Community Center, 1528 Valentine Place South.