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April 15, 2014 > Learning by Listening - Lessons From Our First Small Business 'Walk About'

Learning by Listening - Lessons From Our First Small Business 'Walk About'

By Kim Marshall, Economic Development Specialist

When it comes to small business, we are thinking big in how we connect with this important part of our local economy. Building on an already robust Business Appreciation Visit program, we have begun business district ÔwalkaboutsÕ, where we visit as many local businesses as possible within an afternoon. We recently partnered with the Fremont Chamber of Commerce and members of the Centerville Business & Community Association (CBCA) to pilot this concept in Centerville, where we met with nearly 60 businesses.

We learned a lot. Business owners were inviting and shared that they have weathered the worst of the economic downturn. Most people described their business as stable, good, or growing. We provided information on business resources such as free business workshops and no-interest loans through Kiva Zip, and the CityÕs new Business Ally. A general sense of optimism really came through, as well as a strong loyalty and affection for the Centerville area.

Businesses were particularly pleased to hear about new investment in the area, like the proposed Artist Walk project. Originally facing uncertainty after the demise of California Redevelopment Agencies, the path is now clear for the CityÕs Successor Agency to sell a 6.6 acre site along Fremont Boulevard to BHV Center Street properties. The 4-story project will consist of 185 apartments and 28,000 square feet of ground floor retail. In addition, it will feature a 2,000 square foot space for use local artists and musicians, with priority given to the Centerville community. Construction is expected to begin in spring of 2015.

Our main objective was to listen. So we did. And we got a lot out of it. For one, we got a better sense of the character of Centerville and what types of businesses are in the district, as the chart below shows. We also plan to take the feedback to our other City colleagues and community partners and work together on addressing questions and concerns that were raised.

This first ÒDistrict AppreciationÓ effort was a big success. The plan is to make this a quarterly endeavor, targeting a different district each time. Next up will be the Mission San Jose District in May. Let us know if you want to join!

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