Small businesses are the heart and soul of a community. They employ, feed and supply our daily needs, while providing a centralized hub for events, entertainment and activities. But sometimes businesses need a little help starting, becoming sustainable, growing and expanding. As an answer, the Thurston EDC’s Center for Business and Innovation has partnered with the Olympia Downtown Alliance to launch OlyBizWorks. They hope to ensure that owners and employees know about resources and opportunities they have to strengthen and grow.

Thurston Economic Development Council Oly Biz Works-partnership with Olympia Downtown Alliance and Thurston Economic Development Council
Oly Biz Works is a partnership between the Thurston EDC’s Center for Business and Innovation and the Olympia Downtown Alliance. Photo courtesy: Thurston Economic Development Council

The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that nationally “From 2000 to 2017, small businesses created 8.4 million net new jobs…Thus, they accounted for 65.9 percent of net new job creation in the period.” Locally, the SBA says our state’s 590,000 small businesses employ 51.5 percent of Washington employees.

To help downtown businesses thrive, OlyBizWorks provides scholarships for valuable ScaleUp/TuneUp training to build management expertise and growth planning and one-on-one business advising, says Celia Nightingale, director of the Center for Business and Innovation.  It also includes other programming, both tangible, like frontage merchandising and tackling graffiti, and intangible, like drawing people to the downtown stores.

Todd Cutts, executive director of the Olympia Downtown Alliance, is excited to support the program and partner with the Thurston EDC. He acknowledges that there are “a lot of great small businesses downtown. This program is really built to bridge gaps for business owners.”  He adds that it aligns well with the ODA’s strategic priorities of advocacy, image making and marketing, and nuts-and-bolts business opportunities with maintaining a clean and safe downtown. To put boots on the ground, OlyBizWorks has hired an intern who will “connect downtown businesses with programs and opportunities,” says Nightingale, “and be a great listener.”

Thurston Economic Development Council Oly Biz Works-helping downtown stores like Hot Toddy
The new Oly Biz Works program reaches out to help store owners and staff grow and thrive. Photo courtesy: Olympia Downtown Alliance

Domenica Clark is a full-time student in The Evergreen State College’s Master of Public Administration program. “My role is as a liaison between business owners and the  EDC Center for Business & Innovation and Olympia Downtown Alliance,” says Clark. “The CB&I offers a lot of different programs and services that I am aiming to connect downtown businesses with—including things like coaching, classes on topics like marketing and financial management, and facilitating peer support groups.”

Additionally, through OlyBizWorks and its Community Development Block Grant funding from the City of Olympia, monies have been allocated to bring in specialized consultants, speakers and trainers to help downtown business owners.  Through Domenica’s role as a listener, she will help identify business needs that specialists can address.

“What people in the community may not know about this program is that it is City of Olympia funded through their federal funds allocation and is about improving businesses and job growth,” says Clark. “I think Olympia is in a position to be very successful because even as online-shopping becomes more and more popular, downtown in general and the diverse businesses present there can offer unique products, services and experiences unavailable online. It is such a fascinating downtown core that offers so much and the Olympia Downtown Alliance works on producing events that help bring people downtown like the Third Thursdays series.”

Thurston Economic Development Council Oly Biz Works-scenic downtown Olympia
Using federal and local grant monies, Oly Biz Works helps with advocacy, training, outreach, and efficiency. Photo courtesy: Olympia Downtown Alliance

“The city has a great commitment to local businesses,” says Nightingale, “especially downtown. It’s a challenge to manage a successful business and this program, which connects business owners with advising, training and promotional opportunities, is a way to facilitate and streamline that.” Organizers frequently ask themselves “What can we do to make sure things are going as well as possible?”

Clark started with the program in early 2019, but has always loved the area. “I have been going to downtown Olympia for a long-time, since the early 2000s and have always been a fan of its unique businesses and the area in general,” she says. “I am excited to be able to go out and talk to business owners and hear what they have to say about how their business is going and what they need help with.   I am very invested in helping businesses succeed. A part of my role is ascertaining what businesses need help with in the context of downtown Olympia’s unique environment.”

Forbes and the SBA estimate that “Only about half of small businesses survive passed the 5-year mark…Beyond that, only about 1 in 3 small businesses get to the 10-year mark and live to tell the tale.” Long-term success comes from knowing the market and having access to experienced mentors who understand staffing, finance, marketing and more.

Thurston Economic Development Council Oly Biz Works-small business education and training
Customized, specialized training will be organized by an intern from TESC’s Master of Public Administration program. Photo courtesy: Thurston Economic Development Council

Thanks to the EDC’s mission, “To create a dynamic and sustainable economy that supports the values of the people who live and work in Thurston County,” and partnership with the Olympia Downtown Alliance, Clark is amply supported in her goals. Diners, window shoppers, consumers, festival-goers and parade enthusiasts all reap the rewards.

To learn more about the Center for Business and Innovation, stop by the EDC’s offices at 4220 6th Avenue in Lacey or call 360-754-6320. Reach Domenica directly at BizAssist@DowntownOlympia.org.

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