Small and family-owned businesses are synonymous with small towns and historic main streets. But Delaware’s largest city also depends on smaller enterprises. We spoke with Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and Jeffrey Flynn, director of the Office of Economic Development, about supporting small business and building wealth in distressed communities.
What resources are most often lacking for small and family-owned businesses in Delaware?
Purzycki: Many businesses are experts in delivering their good or service; they have become successful because they make or do something better than their competition on a routine basis. However, they may not have developed the ancillary skill sets in finance, legal or management to address the problems that arise with growth. Being able to manage their daily provision of goods or services while also addressing and preparing for challenges in the future can be difficult when you have a small, specialized staff focused on daily operations.
What do you see as the city’s role in supporting these kinds of businesses?
Flynn: Our role is to understand the various resources available to small business and then match the appropriate resources to each case. If it’s a business that has revenue and customers but lacks technical expertise to secure capital to expand, we might match it with a business consultant at the State’s Small Business Development Center. If we have a local resident with a business idea but no plan or customers, we will match them with a support program to help create a business plan.
How can Wilmington build wealth in communities where poverty spans generations?
Purzycki: There is not any one path to helping Wilmington communities develop wealth. It’s about creating an environment where success can root, and the wealth will follow. For existing Wilmington businesses with revenue and customers, being available to help them address issues so they can continue to grow and invest in Wilmington communities is important. Providing a business-friendly operating environment will help ensure business stay in the area. Connecting residents with employment opportunities at Wilmington businesses helps local business meet staffing needs while providing job experience and spending power for the local economy.
The bootstrapping small business owner often shows up in campaign speeches and politcal ads. With so much empty rhetoric, how can we advance the conversation in a way that brings real results?
Flynn: By continuing to do everything mentioned above, by making sure we maintain connection with other non profit, state and federal agencies such as the SBDC, the Small Business Administration, by acting on new policy and programmatic changes, such as the federal New Opportunity Zone policy in the recent federal tax law, and by trying new things and perpetuating successful efforts, we can create an environment where citizens can better start and operate small businesses.