Should city do more to aid small biz?

September 7, 2011
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The path to the Indianapolis mayor’s office runs straight down Main Street.

As IBJ’s Francesca Jarosz reported this week, incumbent Greg Ballard and challenger Melina Kennedy both have promised to help small businesses as part of their economic development efforts. Naturally, they’re taking different paths.

Ballard, a Republican finishing his first term, wants to create a “one-stop shop” where entrepreneurs can get assistance with everything from business planning to navigating the permitting process. His ideas—which include expanding airline service to Indianapolis and creating an urban environment that appeals to young adults—are intended to benefit all businesses, including startups.

New and growing companies are a more integral part of Kennedy’s plans. The Democrat, an attorney who owns a minority interest in local athletic retailer Blue Mile, had made recruiting entrepreneurs to the city one of her priorities. Among other things, she wants to help early-stage firms find funding and form a group of 15 to 20 executives who would mentor up-and-coming business leaders.

Reaction to their plans has been mixed. Some experts praise Kennedy’s focus on growing startups, saying it is a sound long-term strategy for creating jobs. Others support Ballard’s broader approach, saying better amenities could boost business.

And a couple observers say the proposals don’t go far enough to help homegrown firms with their biggest problems—like funding startup costs and offering employees health care benefits, for example.

What do you think: Should city government be more involved in nurturing small businesses, or is that a job for the private sector?

And if the candidates follow through with their plans, will it make a difference?

  • Current business Environment
    I have multiple business's in and around Indianapolis, and the one stop shop would be good however, the city has little to do with all the new state design and code revisions in the past few years. Five years ago it took about a week or ten days to get permits, right now it takes an average of 6+ weeks for the same thing, not to mention the late openings and early closing of the desk were you get them and the rudeness from the government worker that told me one time "complain to my union, there's nothing you can do to me". The other hurdle is the Federal government mandates, which the local government can not control.
  • city aid to small biz
    First, I'll just say that I'm very pleased that Indianapolis has two candidates with first-hand experience in business start ups. There is much that the city can do to aid small business. One thing that I would like to see happen is for the city to impose a "buy local" requirement on any business receiving tax or training incentives.
  • real estate tax burden
    I have watched the real estate taxes on my downtown business property increase from $8000
    per year to $44000 per year in 3 years!
    We now are operating at a great way to keep this small business going and no buyer for the property...
  • Duplication of Services
    I work in the Indianapolis SBDC, Small Business Development Center, which is a one stop shop for small business owners and we provide no cost assistance to start ups and existing businesses. We are funded by the SBA and the state of Indiana. Would like to see the city tie into our program ( rather than spend money to recreate what is already available....
    • Good point
      Good point, Victoria. There seem to be plenty of existing resources available. Are more necessary? Are there needs going unfilled now?
      • SBDC
        I have received lots of helpful information from my SBDC business advisor. Again, we already have a great resource for businesses, so we don't need to recreate what already exists.
      • Response
        I would not be bold enough to say I believe we meet every need of every small business in our community but we work with hundreds of clients a year and provide exactly the services the mayor describes. Along with our SBDC office, there are two other organizations who also receive SBA funding. SCORE, an all volunteer group and the Business Ownership Imitative of Indiana which houses the SBA funded Women's Business Center. Between the three SBA partner organizations, we have several full time employees who advise businesses and SCORE has a great many part time volunteers who provide excellent counseling services. It would seem to be wise to first understand what is already available to the small business community and perhaps partner or add funding to existing groups before creating a new department or organization. Of course, if a new organization is created that provides similar services we will reach out and try to partner and work with them because the success of Indy small businesses and entrepreneurs is the number one priority.
      • Politcal Fodder
        We should know by now this is just election year political fodder. The current mayor has allowed the permit and approval divisons to turn into a 'for profit' business with more obstacles than not. The challenging mayor candidate had her time with the previous mayor and they were even worse. All their proposed ideas for helping small business are nothing more than government spending without any real solutions or help. Talk and shallow promises without any method to gauge outcomes.

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      1. You are correct that Obamacare requires health insurance policies to include richer benefits and protects patients who get sick. That's what I was getting at when I wrote above, "That’s because Obamacare required insurers to take all customers, regardless of their health status, and also established a floor on how skimpy the benefits paid for by health plans could be." I think it's vital to know exactly how much the essential health benefits are costing over previous policies. Unless we know the cost of the law, we can't do a cost-benefit analysis. Taxes were raised in order to offset a 31% rise in health insurance premiums, an increase that paid for richer benefits. Are those richer benefits worth that much or not? That's the question we need to answer. This study at least gets us started on doing so.

      2. *5 employees per floor. Either way its ridiculous.

      3. Jim, thanks for always ready my stuff and providing thoughtful comments. I am sure that someone more familiar with research design and methods could take issue with Kowalski's study. I thought it was of considerable value, however, because so far we have been crediting Obamacare for all the gains in coverage and all price increases, neither of which is entirely fair. This is at least a rigorous attempt to sort things out. Maybe a quixotic attempt, but it's one of the first ones I've seen try to do it in a sophisticated way.

      4. In addition to rewriting history, the paper (or at least your summary of it) ignores that Obamacare policies now must provide "essential health benefits". Maybe Mr Wall has always been insured in a group plan but even group plans had holes you could drive a truck through, like the Colts defensive line last night. Individual plans were even worse. So, when you come up with a study that factors that in, let me know, otherwise the numbers are garbage.

      5. You guys are absolutely right: Cummins should build a massive 80-story high rise, and give each employee 5 floors. Or, I suppose they could always rent out the top floors if they wanted, since downtown office space is bursting at the seams (