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May 20 2012

Why We Should Think Small — As in Small Business

How will our road construction affect our city's businessI’ve attended all the Rogers city council meetings since July 2011 with the exception of one or two. With all the decisions made in those committee and council meetings, not once have I heard someone ask, “How is this going to affect our business community?” This is only one of the reasons I have to get involved in city leadership — to get every city leader thinking about how they can make every part of Rogers a more viable place to operate a business.

I’d bet money that no one ever thought to ask about how they can help local businesses. That is the job of the chamber of commerce, correct? True, a chamber of commerce is an advocate for business in the city. However, it is harder than ever to operate a business. We can blame it on tax burdens and regulation but the sagging economy and rising costs have caused everyone to tighten their purse strings. Consumers just have less money to spend.

The chamber of commerce alone can’t improve the business climate in a city. City leaders (in Rogers as well as every other city) must start examining how everything they do improves or damages the elements needed for businesses to succeed (like accessibility, customer traffic, and curb appeal). Any city that receives revenue from sales tax income and business license fees owes its business owners more consideration. It is time for our city to think small — as in small business.

Business owners invest everything they have in time and money to operate a successful business. For many of them, it is not only their livelihood but their retirement plan. Some plan to sell the business eventually and invest most of their extra money in the business. They find little left over to put into retirement savings plans.

Owning a business isn’t a life of freedom that people who’ve never owned one think it is. It is a love of the entrepreneurial life and calling to contribute to our economy that drives owners. I write a column for NWAMotherlode.com (a Northwest Arkansas small business) called Empty Nexter. I just finished my May entry on small business ownership to be posted soon. Click here to read the column.

The city’s business climate deserves as much consideration as the city’s quality of life. Like every other business in Rogers, small businesses employ people who live and shop in our community. They contribute to a sales tax base that makes sure we have things like nice roads and good police and fire protection.

The city leaders have placed a lot of attention on developing the new business district on the west side of Rogers along I-540 in the last ten years. It is a thriving high-rent district that is doing fairly well despite financial struggles that have plagued some developments. Now it is time for the city to once again turn its attention back east.

In Rogers, many of the city’s small businesses are located east of Dixieland. However, there is also a strip along Walnut Street and also Olive Street that starts at 28th street and continues east that have a number of locally owned businesses.

Business owners like road improvements that improve curb appeal and customer traffic. But the projects redirect traffic which many businesses rely on. Every month the project drags on takes profit off the bottom line of the business owners along the road improvement zone. When city leaders tear roads up without a plan to get traffic flowing again as quickly as possible, it creates a dangerous cash flow situation for business owners.

Some cities in Northwest Arkansas opt to do a road project with city employees and equipment instead of contracting with an outside company. Doing the road project in-house may save the city money but it often takes longer. And extending the time the project takes will normally rob businesses of customer traffic that pushes them over the financial edge into failure. It can also cause a business to decide to relocate which means the property owner is paying a mortgage on an empty space they can’t lease until the road project is completed.

Road improvements are necessary. It’s easy to say, “It’ll be a lot better when we’re done.” And we expect it to be worse before it gets better. But here is where a city needs to ask, “How can we lessen the negative impact of this road project on the business owners who have invested in our city during the project?”

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