By Bill Reagan
Across the country, the week of May 2 will be celebrated as Small Business Week, highlighting the importance of small businesses to the U.S. economy. In Alexandria, we celebrate small businesses every day because they are such an integral part of our character and economy.
Small businesses comprise 90 percent of all businesses in Alexandria and they are ideally suited to our scale. Retail spaces on King Street and Mount Vernon Avenue are perfect for small boutiques, intimate restaurants and specialty shops. In fact, 78 percent of retail stores on King Street are small, locally run, independent businesses.
Our commercial office market also includes attractive offerings for small businesses. Smaller office buildings and historic spaces appeal to businesses like commercial creatives and small professional service providers. The characteristics that make our city so special are also the things that help small businesses thrive.
Alexandria relies on our small businesses in many ways. These owners and their employees often sponsor events, serve on volunteer boards, contribute time and money to local causes, and have often provided community leadership through changing times and circumstances. Alexandria benefits when our businesses are engaged, because they truly have their finger on the pulse of the community.
Since our economy and quality of life are so dependent on the success of small businesses, the question worth asking is whether we are doing our very best to be inviting and to help them start and grow. City government has worked very hard in recent years to streamline processes where possible and minimize delays. Alexandria entrepreneurs who have gone on to expand into other communities often note that Alexandria provides much more personal interaction and support.
The integrated nature of our community often brings together stakeholders with differing viewpoints, from residents who may fear that nearby businesses will bring noise or traffic, to proprietors who are doing everything they can to make their businesses thrive. City staff works to balance all of these priorities and it should encourage all of us in the community to appreciate how much effort it takes to find the best solution in each situation.
The city also has a wide array of interconnected resources that support and promote small businesses. These groups focus on building an infrastructure and business climate that preserves and strengthens Alexandria’s ideal setting for small businesses.
From Alexandria’s city government and the chamber of commerce, to Visit Alexandria, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and neighborhood business associations, many organizations work together to support and strengthen small businesses across the city.
The Alexandria Small Business Development Center is at the core of these efforts. It helps interconnect the efforts of support organizations and expedites the communications flow to and from small businesses. It also helps small businesses solve problems, overcome obstacles and make worthwhile connections throughout the community and region.
A city proclamation and a month of special programs are set to highlight small businesses in May – but every week in Alexandria is truly Small Business Week.
The writer is the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.