Five Principles for Sustaining Local Business:
1. Go small, not big.
What does this mean? Currently, the biggest way City of Asheville tries to spur job growth is by offering tax rebates (and other perks, like street improvements) to large out-of-town employers that want to relocate to the area. This is frequently a losing bargain: Asheville competes against lots of other towns for these jobs, so the government that offers the most perks usually wins; the resulting companies have little reason to stick around after their tax breaks run out. Meanwhile, hundreds of smaller local businesses with long ties to the area lose out: the incentives take time and paperwork to pursue, yet locals don't have entire departments scouting for deals. The city will instead seek out smaller local businesses already in the area that are looking to expand and work to get them the same incentive deals big corporations get, tying the tax breaks to living wages for local workers.
The City of Asheville holds tens of millions in deposits and investments at major banks. Starting in 2018, the city will divest $250,000 from these banks to help Community Development Financial Institutions like Self Help and Mountain Bizworks make low-cost loans to new businesses, similar to a program used by Charlotte's city government. Rich will double this fund every year he's in office and focus the funds on local sustainable and minority-owned business making goods and services for locals, not tourists.
Lastly, Downtown's independent small businesses are the heart of our economy and a strategic local asset. They are threatened by many complex factors such as high costs, aging landlords, and a glut of outside interest from the tourism boom. Rich will support policies that ban outside chain stores and restaurants, limit the local size of downtown retail space, create financial support for independent business owners to buy and own their own spaces, and draw in the support of the Tourism Development Authority's hotel tax revenue, to ensure that independent businesses survive and thrive.
2. Focus on career-track jobs, not dead ends.
What does this mean? A famous local saying: "The career ladder in Asheville is missing rungs." The city shouldn't continue to consider service-industry jobs with little or no career advancement to be viable, sustainable job creation. Any person, whether a recent high-school or college graduate or a retrainee starting fresh in any field, should be able to spend their entire career in Asheville, rather than being forced move away in order to make starts in science, technology, or other technical professions or sidelined in dead-end service industry positions with no advancement. Job creation needs to fill in the gaps.
3. Put the infrastructure in place.
What does this mean? The city should begin an ambitious redesign of Tunnel Road and Patton Avenue, creating business and commercial nodes in these blighted areas that can support jobs and homes. Rich would ensure sensible connections to the highways and usable links between jobs and homes, including transit, that reduce traffic congestion and take commercial trucks off residential roads. He would aggressively pursue hotel tax funds to create arts and entrepreneurship incubators and permanently affordable restaurant, retail, and art studio space, so artists and startups aren't priced out of the market. He would also partner with a local university to build a campus on the West Slope of downtown, providing a durable local customer base for downtown businesses and facilities for arts and industry training in the heart of the city.
Lastly, it's no secret Asheville is an expensive place to live. Only last year a major company looking to relocate hundreds of high-tech jobs to the area chose a different city instead, saying the cost of housing here would be too high for their employees. High-cost housing makes Asheville unattractive to businesses and professionals. It means lower economic mobility: locals trapped by high rents and mortgages aren't free pursue advanced training or credentials, to start businesses of their own, to support local stores and services, to take on internships or to work in career-starting positions. Jobs and housing have to be tackled together.
4. Invest in employee ownership.
Along with the community investment from the city's partnership with Self Help and Mountain Bizworks, the city should support a Center for Democratic Workplaces, promoting employee ownership, employee stock ownership plans (ESOP), and cooperatives as tools for local workers to participate in ownership stakes of their businesses. Asheville has a long history of cooperative and worker-owned business that is threatened by rising costs of equity and far-from-local outside business. Employee ownership increases job retention and better decision-making, helping locals pool resource and develop leaders from within. A Center for Democratic Workplaces would walk businesses through the process and stand as a statement for Asheville GO LOCAL values.
5. Go beyond the "McKibbon Standard" for local arts, living wages, and racial equity.
What does this mean? Since the developer of the old BB&T Building downtown offered to use local art and retail in his project, a set of expectations about new developments seeking council approval has come to be known as the "McKibbon standard." Local artists and contractors are economy-drivers and valuable entrepreneurs. Developers taking advantage of the local economy should GO LOCAL for art, retail space, and recruitment and advancement of underserved populations and minority-owned contractors.