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City office expands opportunities for small businesses

City office expands opportunities for small businesses

Saphia Suarez
City office expands opportunities for small businesses
City of Boston Small Business Unit Director Natalia Urtubey and Mayor Martin Walsh browse the selection of books at Frugal Bookstore in Dudley Square during the Mayor on Main Trolley Tour. PHOTO: JEREMIAH ROBINSON, MAYOR’S OFFICE

Natalia Urtubey was appointed Director of Small Business in the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development in October 2018. There, she manages a 12-person staff focused on tracking and producing research on local and national trends to inform decision-making about small business development tools. Urtubey works with residents and other city officials to remove barriers to doing business in the City of Boston, and coordinates efforts with local residents and existing businesses to ensure growth without displacement through a strategic and policy-driven approach.

The Small Business Unit manages initiatives aimed at supporting small businesses and neighborhood wealth creation and works with small businesses throughout the city via direct services and its partnership with the Boston Main Streets Foundation and its 20 neighborhood-based 501(c)3 organizations.

Urtubey manages and oversees the distribution for more than $3 million in small business resources under the Community Development Block Grant Program and more than $3 million in investment in small businesses within and outside of the 20 Main Streets districts. She directs and implements Mayor Martin Walsh’s 2016 Small Business Plan to provide coordinated service delivery and economic opportunity for Boston’s 40,000 small businesses.

The Banner recently conducted an email Q-and-A with Urtubey.

What’s the importance of small businesses in Boston’s economy?

Small businesses are the heartbeat of Boston and contribute to the vibrancy and unique qualities of our neighborhoods. With more than 40,000 small businesses and $15 billion in revenue, these businesses represent more than 44 percent of employment and 37 percent of revenue for the city’s private, for-profit businesses.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing small businesses in Boston?

Many of our small businesses owned by women and people of color have struggled with access to capital and professional expertise. Through the Economic Development Center, we have rolled out a number of series to focus on immigrant and women business owners, as well as different industries, all of which include information on our neighborhood access business loans, technical assistance and design services, as well as local partners and resources. We have a lot of resources available for our small businesses, and I encourage anyone interested in learning more to visit www.boston.gov/departments/small-business-development.

What does your office hope to achieve with the citywide Small Business Plan?

Since 2016, the Small Business Plan has served as the foundation for the Walsh administration’s small business development strategy. This plan has informed our priorities of enhancing the ability of minority, immigrant and women entrepreneurs to successfully start and grow small businesses, and has guided in developing tools and policies to address specific gaps in key industries vital to Boston’s economic growth.

Boston’s Main Streets program is 26 years old. How has it helped the city’s business districts?

As the first and largest urban Main Street program in the nation, Boston Main Streets (BMS) has shaped the identity of our city’s neighborhood commercial districts. BMS helps build community, shape neighborhood voice, and enhance the access of businesses to resources. Just last month, we hosted our ‘Mayor on Main’ trolley tour, where Mayor Walsh together with city leadership and residents presented the 23rd Annual Boston Main Streets Awards, recognizing an outstanding business owner and volunteer from each district. As part of that tour, Mayor Walsh shared the exciting news that in 2021, the National Main Streets Conference will come to Boston.

Some business owners say rising rents may soon force them out of their locations. What is the city doing to help businesses with the challenges of displacement?

Long-term commercial vacancies and preventing displacement is a top priority for our team and we are actively working on ways we can further support our local businesses in the locations they love. One way we’re helping small businesses prevent displacement is by providing technical assistance for legal assistance in cases of displacement or lease negotiations.

What have you learned about Boston’s small businesses since you took on this role in October 2018?

I have learned a ton about our city’s business ecosystem and the incredible amount of support that exists for local small businesses. I have learned that businesses come in all shapes and sizes, and that we as a City can help businesses thrive through business education, technical support, grants, and simply one-on-one case management.

Finally, I have been more aware of how important it is to shop local. Even though I am a Dorchester resident, I pride myself on exploring every neighborhood and visiting small, local businesses throughout the city of Boston.

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