In the last few years, the Seattle Office of Economic Development (OED) has launched two initiatives to identify specific roadblocks that prevent local entrepreneurs from growing companies in the local area.
Instead of fostering entrepreneurship through accelerator or incubator programs, Seattle’s OED has worked to increase the dialog between local founders and the Seattle government. The OED has done this using two programs:
- Business Visitation Program: Each year, the OED has visited around 500 companies with 10 to 100 employees and annual revenues between $1 million and $50 million to discuss how the OED and the city of Seattle can help these businesses.
- City Business Casual Series: The City Business Casual series consists of informal monthly gatherings that provide the Seattle business community with regular, direct access to business-focused city officials, including key department heads and representatives. The OED often designs these meetings to better understand how the city can aid in the development of a specific local industry.
Through these initiatives, the government leaders can identify policies that negatively affect local companies and then craft pragmatic solutions in a timely fashion. An example of the results of these conversations can be seen in Seattle’s life sciences industry. Seattle has more than 50 biotechnology companies employing 8,000 people in the city. However, many of these life science companies are located in an area of Seattle where the construction code forbids the development of labs above the 4th floor in any building. Due to the enhanced communication brought about by the OED programs, this problem was brought to the attention of leaders who quickly updated the city’s code to allow local biotech labs to expand.
It is common to hear civic leaders speak about the importance of entrepreneurship, but in most governmental leaders rarely take the time to listen to their local fast-growing entrepreneurs. Programs like these initiatives in Seattle can focus the attention of the government on actionable challenges that directly impact the best entrepreneurs in their cities.
Contributed by Haley Goodman and Emilie Abrams.