The Council advanced five new policy approaches in the 2011 budget process as part of our continuing work on economic recovery.  In listening to the business community, we heard that there were several gaps in our approach.  The Council adopted directives to City Departments to:

  1.  Compile a list of all City-issued licenses and permits required to open and operate a business in Seattle, and identify opportunities for consolidation or change of licensing and permitting requirements and the feasibility of developing a Master Licensing system (one stop license and permit service).
  2. Formally establish an Interdepartmental City wide Business Advocacy Team, to bring together the work of different Departments that businesses have to interact with.
  3. Coordinate, integrate, and improve access to the array of City environmental sustainability services as part of our business expansion and retention work.
  4. Develop a promotion and communication strategy to make the City’s business support services more accessible to micro-businesses.
  5. Develop market research support to small business.

One-Stop Licensing.  Businesses have long bemoaned the multiplicity of regulatory and licensing requirements in Seattle.  We were surprised to find that there is no central listing or inventory!  We have asked the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) to identify and categorize all City-issued licenses and permits required to open and operate a business in Seattle, and to work with departments to analyze the original purpose of each license and permit requirement and analyze whether the license or permit continues to achieve its intended purpose.  Once this is completed, FAS will identify opportunities for consolidation or change in licensing and permitting requirements, and analyze the feasibility of developing a Master Licensing system (one stop license and permit service).

Business Advocacy Team.  The Office of Economic Development has a Citywide Business Advocacy Team, but this team should include OED, Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle Department of Transportation, Seattle City Light, the Seattle Fire Department, Department of Planning and Development, and Finance and Administrative Services.  The mission of the team would be to:

  • provide business assistance and case management for businesses that need assistance in working through specific issues related to one or more city departments;
  •  identify systemic and/or recurring issues, barriers that unintentionally impact specific industries (e.g., biotech, farmers markets, street vendors, etc.) and regulatory challenges;
  • recommend policy modifications and process improvements to Departments, the Council, and the Executive.

Business Services Support.  The Office of Economic Development (OED) manages a business services program to help businesses navigate permitting and regulatory issues, access financing, and provides other technical resources.  Seattle also provides a suite of services to help businesses become more environmentally sustainable.  From a business owner’s perspective, it can be challenging to navigate the array of environmental services that the city offers and evaluate what may be appropriate for their business.  The Council wants these two services to be coordinated so that businesses receive the most effective and efficient service.

Micro-Business Support.  Our smallest businesses (1 to 5 employees) often are not aware of and do not access City resources.  The Council is looking for collaborative efforts with community partners to let new micro-businesses know about City and community services tailored to their needs, and opportunities for improving current services.

Market Research.  One of the challenges for small business retention and expansion is the capability to do market research.  Currently, OED’s work in this area is limited to connecting companies to opportunities within the City of Seattle and informal match-making, but does not include providing GIS data, customer segmentation information, and other market research that large companies depend on to identify new markets.  The Council wants OED to develop options for providing market research support to small businesses, including using services currently in existence, such as the Western Washington University, Business Competitiveness Center, as well as new ideas such as establishing a “corporate librarian” as part of the Seattle Public Library system.

Economic recovery requires careful and patient attention to making the City nimble, responsive, and thorough in its work with the business community.  These five policy approaches will move us in that direction, and will hopefully make a difference in our economic development.