Birmingham, Ala., Mayor Randall Woodfin (left), alongside Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, addresses a luncheon at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' 91st Winter Meeting. (Courtesy of the U.S. Conference of Mayors)
Birmingham, Ala., Mayor Randall Woodfin (left), alongside Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, addresses a luncheon at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' 91st Winter Meeting. (Courtesy of the U.S. Conference of Mayors)

While many of the elected and appointed municipal leaders from around the country who congregated at the Capitol Hilton Hotel in northwest D.C. at the 91st annual U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) Winter Meeting from Jan. 17-20 talked about a wide range of issues such as climate change and public safety, helping small businesses prosper became a recurring theme in most discussions.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our cities,” said Burnsville, Minnesota, Mayor Elizabeth B. Kautz, at the conference’s workshop on Small Business & Entrepreneurship Help. “They drive our economy. They drive our talent. This workshop is designed to help you as mayors help the small businesses in your city.”

Kautz said many of the mayors across the country are grappling with how to aid their small businesses particularly since the coronavirus pandemic had an adverse economic effect on their local economy. She said mayors have had to deal with empty downtowns, the negative aspects of telework and a new reality for businesses that lost a stream of income they traditionally relied on pre-pandemic.

Out of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Help workshop came an idea proposed by Lou Mosca, executive vice president and chief operating officer of American Management Services. Mosca proposed that the USCM produce a mayor’s publication to small businesses that can advise municipal chief executives how to engage the small business community and what resources are available to firms on the federal, state and local levels.

“This is city hall’s way of stepping up and saying to small businesses ‘we have resources for you’,” he said.

Many mayors have programs in place to aid small businesses and shared those with colleagues. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said his city has had a historic commitment to reach out to small, minority and women-owned firms and the effort continues presently.

“In Atlanta, we have a program where 35% of all of our city business is directed to disadvantaged business enterprises,” he said. “That program operates at our airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and with government agencies. We also encourage small businesses to do joint ventures with large companies.”

Dickens said his administration will create a virtual platform where large companies will find small business subcontractors to partner with on city projects. He spoke of weariness in hearing large firms complain that they couldn’t find small businesses who can handle the type of work needed on projects, saying the virtual platform should solve that problem.

Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor Randall Woodfin said his city’s Building Opportunities for Lasting Development (BOLD) program serves as a key program for small businesses that seek city contracts. Woodfin said BOLD has helped many struggling businesses during the pandemic get funds to continue their operations. 

Robin Mack, the director of Business Development for the city of Mount Vernon, N.Y., said small businesses are being engaged by the administration of Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard.

“We have found many small business owners have great ideas and skills but don’t have the technical knowledge on how to manage a business successfully,” Mack said. “We offer programs to help them get up to speed with their accounting, marketing, banking and e-commerce. If the plan for a business is to have a brick-and-mortar operation, we can assist them with that also.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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