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An Inclusive Economic Development plan by Astig Planning is looking to uplift minority-owned businesses in Johnson County using feedback from door-to-door surveys, focus groups and more. Through collaboration led by Astig CEO and Founder V Fixmer-Oraiz, the team reached out to 105 total respondents that consisted of current business owners, emerging business owners and people connected to support institutions. Emerging business owners are classified as working on opening a business or have an idea for a business they are yet to start. Support institutions include business partnerships, lending services, local governments, educational bodies and other business hubs. The surveys spelled out barriers undestimated business owners face in achieving success in Johnson County, as well as shed light on the owners' backgrounds. "We wanted to dispel some mythology," explained Fixmer-Oraiz during an Iowa City Council work session Sept. 20, before explaining there is often a sterotype around immigrant-owned and BIPOC-owned business owners that they do not have much education. The majority of both existing business owners and emerging business owners possess an undergraduate degree, according to her findings. 32% of respondents have a Masters degree or are a PhD graduate.
BarriersMore than half of all business owner respondents said they spend more than 20% of their business income on rent, which is above the industry standard. It is recommended individuals don't spend more than 30% of their personal income on housing. Respondents also indicated the difficulty in securing loans from banks, either through requirements that seem intimidating or because they don't receive approval. Other respondents indicated they weren't sure where to find financial resources. "The Multicultural Development Center of Iowa offers a business accelerator program, yet many people don't know about it," Fixmer-Oraiz gave as an example. Astig's economic plan also detailed how most support institutions have not had programs geared toward helping BIPOC-owned businesses for long, and out of the ones that do, none of those institutions collect data on participants from underestimated communities. Their findings discovered most support organizations do not provide loans to BIPOC-owned businesses, and at least 67% of all Johnson County institutions do not provide information materials about lending in different languages. While some places do offer language help in Spanish, data from the American Community Survey in 2019 shows that a sizable portion of Johnson County residents speak French and Mandarin as well. If translated documents are offered, it's rare for a resident to be able to ask follow-up questions to a translator in-person, says Fixmer-Oraiz.
SolutionsIn June, Astig hosted a Strategic Doing session where 30 attendees, including local vendors and local government leaders, discussed how everyone could work together to alleivate challenges. Following that session and the surveys, focus groups and interviews Astig conducted, Fixmer-Oraiz presented the following solutions and opportunities for Iowa City Council to consider:
- 1v1 mentorship
- Access to a commercial kitchen
- Access to classes on online and graphic design skills
- Affordable spaces
- Community grants with supportive banks
- More street vending opportunities
- Low-interest loans, with no payback for the first year
- Consolidated information on permits in multiple languages