Seattle launches Commercial Affordability program to stimulate local small businesses.

FIX facilitates the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for the OED.

The case for commercial affordability
90% of all businesses in the US have 20 or fewer employees and that proportion is growing according to payroll giant ADP.  Small businesses pay nearly half of all US payrolls.  In Seattle, nearly 95% of all businesses have 50 or fewer employees.  Small businesses drive innovation and small businesses are and have been how many immigrants find economic security, contributing back to our booming economy.  Ironically, as our economy grows, it is becoming more and more difficult to start and run a small business in Seattle as the cost and challenges of operating increases.  Commercial rents are at an all time high while vacancy is at record lows, particularly retail.  Long-time businesses are being displaced with new developments which often replace small-scale leaseable spaces with ever larger spaces on average.  It is difficult to start and operate a small business in Seattle.

Small businesses pay half of US payroll yet our economic growth makes it more difficult to access capital, find affordable leases, and avoid displacement.  Unless we address this disproportionate pressure, we may stymie innovation and a key means of upward mobility. 

In early 2016, Seattle launched the Commercial Affordability initiative to develop new policies and practices that would foster a more supportive climate for local small businesses.  The policies were put forward by the Commercial Affordability Advisory Committee (CAAC), a group of 16 economists, small business owners, developers, PDAs, and associations.  Supported by the OED and city agencies, the CAAC developed a series of recommendations for new entities, policies, and programs that would have a positive impact in the following ways:

  • strengthen existing small businesses and reduce displacement
  • activate ground level public realm of pedestrian oriented neighborhoods
  • enable space for small business incubation including light manufacturing
  • increase the overall economic and cultural vitality of our neighborhoods
  • stimulate growth of emerging businesses, artists and organizations

FIX’s Role
FIX was hired by the city to facilitate this initiative.  We designed a four-month engagement that aligned the CAAC on the core problem definition, created critical paths for small business success, and honed technically feasible solutions to recommend to the Mayor in collaboration with the OED, the planning departments (SDCI and OPCD) and other stakeholders.