The Draft Comprehensive Economic Development Plan found the cost of rent, gaps in resource information, lack of relationships with business support systems and finding a location are among the obstacles facing business owners. (Newspaper)
V Fixmer-Oraiz, founder and CEO of Astig Planning, presented the plan’s findings to the Iowa City Council this week. (Submitted photo)
Megan Alter, Iowa City Council
IOWA CITY – Affordable spaces, mentorship programs and community areas are among the recommendations that would help further support minority business owners in Johnson County.
The Comprehensive Economic Development Plan led by Astig Planning, an Iowa City community and environmental planning business, has been in the works for about a year conducting research, surveys, focus groups and interviews. The plan identifies barriers and potential solutions for Johnson County business owners who have historically been underrepresented.
V Fixmer-Oraiz, founder and CEO of Astig Planning, presented the plan’s findings to the Iowa City Council this week.
“What’s really great is that there’s a lot of momentum and interest and especially with the (American Rescue Act) funding,” Fixmer-Oraiz said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We hope that this plan can show that there is internal work that needs to be done, and there are also a lot of barriers that need to be removed.”
The Iowa City Council, in the process of distributing its pandemic relief dollars, intends to use the study to help guide funding decisions to support BIPOC business owners. The city has earmarked $4 million to $6 million for potential initiatives.
City staff will work to develop targeted proposals, according to a city memo.
“This is a phenomenal and really thorough dive into this that just develops layers and layers,” Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“I think we’re going to be in a much better position moving forward because of this work.
Barriers in Johnson County
The draft plan found the cost of rent, gaps in resource information, missing relationships with business support systems and finding a location are among the obstacles business owners face.
Another barrier is if individuals feel intimidated to go to a bank or if documents or information are inaccessible.
“We’re also talking about financial literacy,” Fixmer-Oraiz said. “We’re talking about all these kinds of things that really buy actual financial resources.”
The study found that there are not many programs in Johnson County that specifically focus on serving underserved business owners. Existing programs are still under development.
Another drawback is that most materials about loan or support programs are only available in English. The study found that only 17 percent of institutions provide their information in another language, often Spanish.
“It’s not that you just want to have a document translated into another language,” Fixmer-Oraiz said. “You have to have that escort person who can … help that person. We’re not just talking about a one and done. We’re really talking about a dynamic interaction.”
The plan has five recommended action points, each with its own set of suggested changes or improvements.
Three action items are for internal changes:
- Changes in policies and procedures at multiple levels
- Internal work for local governments and business support institutions
- Support entities that are currently supporting small businesses.
There are two action points involving “public support”:
- Provide resources to the underserved entrepreneurial and business community
- Build infrastructure to create spaces for undervalued businesses to thrive.
Opportunities for one-on-one mentoring would be a “game changer,” Fixmer-Oraiz said. It would be an opportunity for a budding business owner to hear from someone who has navigated the financial landscape, legal terms and experienced the same obstacles.
Other potential solutions identified include affordable spaces, grant opportunities, translated documents, community networks and accelerator programs.
Fixmer-Oraiz said next steps include presenting the findings to other local governments in the county and going back to see where the recommendations fit with funding priorities.
“No one wants a plan to sit on a shelf, and that plan is very important,” Fixmer-Oraiz said.
Draft Comprehensive Economic Development Plan from Gazetteonline on Scribd
About the study
Astig Planning wanted to get a clearer picture of the barriers and resources for “undervalued community members” who own or are interested in starting a business in the county.
Underserved community members include blacks, Latinos, immigrants, and formerly incarcerated individuals, among others who have historically been underrepresented.
“This plan is in large part a study,” the plan states. “When our business community was looking to understand the needs of our underserved businesses, there was a lack of data collection and findings to quantify and help guide a course of action.”
The effort is led by Astig Planning with help from GreenState Credit Union, the Iowa City Area Development Group, the Iowa City Area Business Partnership and the Iowa Multicultural Development Center, among other groups.
A total of 105 individuals responded to the survey, Fixmer-Oraiz said. Of these, 63 are owners of existing businesses, 17 are owners of developing businesses and 24 are business support institutions.
There were 25 different races identified and 29 ethnicities identified among the respondents, Fixmer-Oraiz said.
“You’re just not going to see that kind of strong identification. and as we know, that matters,” said Fixmer-Oraiz. “People feeling seen during this process was incredibly important to us.”
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