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Supporting Small Business Health

Staff Perspective Grace Streltzov

The fate of local small businesses is tied to community health. Not only does research demonstrate the positive effects of a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem on a county’s health outcomes, local enterprises also play a pivotal role in maintaining social cohesion and employment opportunities that make communities healthy.

However, there are substantial racial disparities between entrepreneurs throughout the county. The US Census’ 2012 Survey of Business Owners found that San Mateo County businesses owned by white entrepreneurs have significantly more revenue than businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color. The total sales, shipments, receipts, and revenue for San Mateo County businesses owned by non-Latinx Whites is over $32 billion dollars, compared to $8 billion for businesses owned by people of color. Common causes of these disparities include inequitable access to the capital, social networks, and experience needed to grow one’s business. Get Healthy SMC is committed to ensuring the success for all small businesses and there are a number of strategies for addressing racial outcome gaps for entrepreneurs. 

Across the country, “anchor institutions” like hospitals, universities and local governments are using their significant purchasing power to build community wealth. Through programs and policies like buying local and providing technical assistance to underrepresented businesses, large place-based enterprises are leveraging their supply chains to create more economic opportunity for underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Commercial lease support is another way to ensure small businesses remain a vibrant and stable part of our communities. Get Healthy recently partnered with Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) to develop a commercial lease template, educate local entrepreneurs and service providers on commercial leasing best practices, and provide legal services to low-income entrepreneurs and small business owners of color. Local governments can support small business success by incorporating these resources into their existing small business services and outreach efforts.

Fostering collective impact among entrepreneurs and community stakeholders is also an important strategy. Encouraging entrepreneur networks can help enhance small businesses’ negotiating power, facilitate information exchange, and empower entrepreneurs to collectively request local services. Lessons from local efforts to protect small neighborhood businesses include the value of building a shared understanding among merchants, city staff, and residents as well as the importance of multi-lingual outreach. 

By harnessing the economic power of our local institutions, empowering entrepreneurs, and providing proactive and inclusive support, we can build an equitable small business ecosystem.