Until a disaster occurs, few of us realize that some of our small businesses are struggling, and how a disaster significantly affects their fragile bottom line. I have spoken to more than a few business owners in The Springs wondering how long they can survive. The firestorms affected our tourism base and many of our employees lost their homes and jobs. What kind of help can we give them during these years of struggling economies?
I am going to highlight a few of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board’s programs that some of our wonderful, vibrant businesses in the Sonoma Valley might want to take advantage of.
The EDB is focused on growing a healthy economy by helping Sonoma County businesses. It provides confidential, no-cost consulting services to businesses seeking to start, relocate, and grow in Sonoma County. A business can get assistance with everything from navigating the startup process; troubleshooting challenges; connecting with key contacts, resources, financing, and training opportunities; and collaborating on issues affecting our regional economy.
The first program I want to call attention to is the Sonoma County Loan Fund. Started in the summer of 2016, the EDB launched this microlending pool for startup and expanding entrepreneurs. This unique partnership — the first of its kind in Sonoma County — has brought together eight local lending institutions to invest $255,000 to create a microlending fund for local businesses that don’t qualify for traditional bank financing.
La Luz Center also offers a microlending program and wants to expand this program to our local businesses. In partnership with the Economic Development Board, La Luz Center also hosts the Springboard discussion on the first Wednesday of the month, with speakers who discuss help for small businesses and updates on the Springs.
Second, the Economic Development Board’s Retention and Expansion (BRE) Manager is there to help businesses with a plethora of common hurdles for an established business. Whether you need help getting building permits for improvements at your established business, are looking for ways to pay for those upgrades, or are trying to find qualified new employees to expand your workforce, the BRE Manager can guide you to the help you need.
After a one-on-one interview at your site, staff will assist you in defining your needs, and connect you to a wide variety of resources, including State tax credits and incentives, employee training subsidies, free staffing assistance, energy savings, free marketing research, and guidance through planning and permitting. The goal is to help local businesses stay and grow in Sonoma County.
Finally, the EDB also has a Business Diversity Development Program. This program supports minority businesses through one-on-one and group presentations to underserved communities. The EDB reaches out to minority and underserved businesses throughout Sonoma County, providing access to all of EDB’s services and resources including guidance through the licensing and permitting process. It also has the capacity to provide bilingual English Spanish assistance, workshops and seminars.
Most importantly, the community can help our small businesses by stopping in to visit the businesses and restaurants lining the corridor of The Springs or businesses opening in Glen Ellen or Kenwood. They want to see you and help you with your purchases and offer creative ideas for gifts or decorating. Take a walk and find the hidden gems inside each of the storefronts you pass by so frequently. You will be delighted to meet the business owner and invite your friends for a stroll-along, now that spring is here.