Many agree on the need to support small businesses and nonprofits in Boulder. We all recognize that they are important providers of jobs and services. Many of our small businesses also are the startup enterprises that serve as the dynamic foundation for our innovation ecosystem. And finally, we recognize that they are the places we shop, the restaurants we frequent, and the sources of support for our neighbors and causes that move us.
All of this is important, but often less understood is the critical role small businesses and nonprofits play in our economic welfare.
Though our larger companies offer a diversity of opportunities and economic value, the Boulder Economic Council’s Market Profile reminds us that small businesses represent the majority of employers in our community. In many instances, too, our locally grown small startup businesses become the larger corporations that balance our economic ecosystem. And with respect to our nonprofits, a recent statewide report illustrated their economic punch, finding that they account for more than 5 percent of the gross product, including more than $4 billion in wages.
Given the clear interest we all have in protecting our small business and nonprofit base in Boulder, it’s disappointing that so many recent policy directives are aligning against them.
First, due to the unavoidable law of supply and demand, policies that increase the cost and limit the scope of commercial development and re-development will force our small businesses and nonprofits to compete for higher priced office and retail space. I’ve heard some opine that those added costs, in this case from the linkage fee increase, would be negligible — in about the 5 percent range. For small businesses and nonprofits, whose profit margins typically are quite tight, that magnitude of increase could be devastating.
Self-imposed limits on commercial space development aside, our small businesses also are suffering from the impacts of enormous increases in property tax liabilities. The compounding effect of a strong economy and limited new commercial development has helped drive an increase of nearly 50 percent in assessed value for commercial property over the past four years. With these taxes trickling directly down into lease rates, it’s no wonder that some of our favorite independent local stores and restaurants have been forced to close.
Finally, it’s important to note that small business and nonprofits often bear the greatest brunt from the forces that are impacting Boulder’s access to workforce talent. High housing prices and difficult commutes into Boulder make it difficult for any business to recruit employees to fill open positions. The challenge can be even greater for small businesses and nonprofits that lack the capacity to offer the same salaries and benefit packages of their larger peers. It’s not surprising, therefore, that a recent Jobs Report from the National Federation of Independent Business found that 21 percent of small business owners cited difficulty finding qualified workers as their “single most important business problem.”
In the face of all these headwinds, the Boulder Chamber isn’t just talking about its concern for small business and nonprofits . . . we’re doing something about it.
First, we continue to speak out against policies that are driving up rents and business costs. The linkage fee increase is only the most recent such policy decision that we’ve taken issue with. Pending action to extend the moratorium on commercial buildings above 35 feet will only lead to a tighter market for small business and nonprofit spaces. It also drives up property values. In the absence of the current political will to change direction, we will continue to monitor conditions on-the-ground that illustrate the consequences of these policy actions and make the case for decisions that better align with stated small business and nonprofit preservation values.
At the same time, we will look to partner with our community leaders to overcome the barriers to talent access. This means strategic measures that increase the supply of workforce housing, here in Boulder and in surrounding communities. We must also make serious strides to improve the commute for Boulder employees through programs and infrastructure investments that get them to work efficiently and conveniently, however they travel. Finally, the Boulder Chamber is pursuing several workforce development initiatives that will prepare the talent we already have in our community for the jobs our businesses and nonprofits need to fill.
Yes, there’s rhetoric and then there’s action. If we really care about small businesses and nonprofits, we must change direction on policies that undermine their interests and support measures to address their greatest needs.
John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at (303) 442-1044, ext 110 or email@example.com.