Nearly every civic official in San José agrees that promoting a stronger local economy is our highest priority. Regardless of our political perspectives, we all understand that supporting vibrant small businesses and high-wage jobs are key to putting our friends and neighbors back to work. To the extent there is a debate, it is not about what we should do—it is about how we should do it. Which is why the event I participated in last week is worth discussing.
Together with the local non-profits San José Made, NextSpace and other community groups, we took two empty storefronts on 2nd Street and turned them into a vibrant economic center. It functioned as a co-working space during the day with great local coffee and free wi-fi, and at night transformed to host local small businesses selling their goods. We called it StartUp San José.
The event showed that we can revitalize our economy one street—and one vacant storefront—at a time. It also underlined why the small business incentive package currently pending before the City Council is so important. The idea is simple—where landlords of long-vacant, street-facing parcels are willing to reduce their asking lease rates, City Hall should waive permit fees for new businesses seeking to get up and running, and expedite the process. Improving our local economy is a team effort, and if both landlords and the City can compromise, we can make real progress for San José.
Match vibrant startups with empty storefronts and what do you get? You get jobs, you get rid of unattractive nuisances and you start to attract more pedestrian traffic, which helps all the other businesses in the area thrive.
You get more reasons for people to spend their money here in San José rather than going to another city. And we know from numerous studies and our own experiences that bustling businesses put more “eyes on the street,” increasing safety and causing crime to fall.
But the tremendous success of StartUp San José showed something else. It showed what happens when government acts as a partner with local businesses, local innovators and local residents to jump start economic activity.
There is a tendency at City Hall to think we might have all the answers and need to drive most of the solutions ourselves. Certainly there are many great ideas at City Hall and many activities where government must be the driver.
But there are many other times when local government should invest more strategically in order to unlock the multiplying power of private, non-profit and other government investments.
That’s what we did with StartUp San José. It costs almost nothing, just the small business fee we waived and the time it takes to change regulations to give local businesses with empty storefronts more incentive to rent to local businesses that can create local jobs and increase local revenue.
What this small investment of time brought is the proof that vibrant local small businesses can thrive. And when they do, they multiply our small investment with new jobs, new opportunities and new tax revenues that come, not by asking people to pay more, but by increasing the number of people paying.
Events like StartUp San José also showed something else. They show just how powerful the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship is here in San José.
How do you believe we can StartUp San José? Please respond to the call to action, and share your ideas boost our local economy at [email protected].