A study from Astig Planning identifies barriers and solutions to starting a business in Johnson County

The draft comprehensive economic development plan found that the cost of rent, gaps in resource information, missing relationships with business support systems, and finding a location are among the barriers business owners face. (Newspaper)

V Fixmer-Oraiz, founder and CEO of Astig Planning, presented the results of the plan to the Iowa City Council this week. (photo provided)

Megan Alter, Iowa City Council

Iowa City – Affordable spaces, extension programs and community areas are among the recommendations that would further help support minority business owners in Johnson County.

The comprehensive economic development plan led by Astig Planning, an Iowa City-based community and environmental planning firm, has been in operation for about a year conducting research, surveys, focus groups, and interviews. The plan identifies potential barriers and solutions for Johnson County business owners who have historically been underrepresented.

V Fixmer-Oraiz, founder and CEO of Astig Planning, presented the results of the plan to the Iowa City Council this week.

“What’s really cool is that there’s a lot of momentum and interest, especially in[the US bailout bill]funding,” Wexmer-Oriz said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Hopefully, this plan shows that there’s an inside job to do, and there’s also a lot of roadblocks that need to be removed.”

In the process of allocating pandemic relief funds, the Iowa City Council intends to use the study to help guide funding decisions to support BIPOC business owners. The city initially allocated $4 million to $6 million for possible initiatives.

City employees will work to develop targeted proposals, according to a city memo.

“This is a really exceptional and thorough dive into this that is peeling layers and layers again,” Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“I think we would be in a much better position to move forward because of this work.

Barriers in Johnson County

The draft plan found that the cost of rent, gaps in resource information, lost relationships with business support systems, and finding a location are among the barriers business owners face.

Another obstacle is that people are afraid to go to a bank or if documents or information cannot be accessed.

“We’re also talking about financial literacy,” Wexmer-Oriz said. “We’re talking about all these kinds of things that really buy actual finances.”

The study found that there are not many programs in Johnson County that focus specifically on serving business owners who have been underestimated. Existing programs are still emerging.

Another drawback is that the majority of materials related to lending or support programs are only available in English. The study found that only 17 percent of institutions provide their information in a different language, often in Spanish.

“It’s not that you just want to translate a document into another language,” Wexmer-Oriz said. “You have to have a follow-up person who can…help that person. We’re not just talking about one and over. We’re really talking about a dynamic interaction.”

Possible solutions

The plan contains five recommended action items, each with its own set of proposed changes or improvements.

Three working elements dedicated to internal changes:

  • Changes in policies and procedures at multiple levels
  • The inner workings of local governments and business support institutions
  • Support for entities that currently support small businesses.

There are two types of work that includes “public-facing support”:

  • Providing resources to the underappreciated enterprise and business community
  • Building infrastructure to create spaces for businesses that are undervalued to thrive.

The one-on-one mentorship opportunities would be a “game changer,” Wexmer-Uriz said. It will be an opportunity for the budding business owner to listen to someone who has navigated the financial landscape, legal jargon and faced the same barriers.

Other potential solutions identified include affordable spaces, grant opportunities, translated documentation, community networking, and acceleration programs.

One of the next steps, Fixmer-Oraiz said, is to present the findings to other local governments in the county and go back to see where the recommendations fit in with funding priorities.

“Nobody wants a plan to sit on the shelf, and that plan is very important,” Wexmer-Oriz said.

Draft comprehensive economic development plan prepared by Gazetteonline on Scribd

about studying

Astig Planning wanted to get a clearer picture of the obstacles and resources for “underestimated members of the community” who own or are interested in starting a business in the county.

Underrepresented community members include blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, immigrants, and formerly incarcerated individuals, among others who were historically underrepresented.

“This plan is in large part a study,” the plan says. “When our business community has been seeking to understand our unappreciated business needs, there has been a lack of data and results gathering to determine and help guide a course of action.”

This effort was led by Astig Planning with assistance from GreenState Credit Union, Iowa City Area Development Group, Iowa City Area Business Partnership and the Iowa Multicultural Development Center, among other groups.

A total of 105 individuals responded to the survey, said Fixmar-Oriz. Of these, 63 are existing business owners, 17 are emerging business owners and 24 are corporate support organizations.

There were 25 different ethnicities identified and 29 ethnicities identified among the participants, Wexmer-Uriz said.

“You’re not going to see that kind of strong definition. And as we know, that’s important,” Wexmer-Uriz said. “The feeling of people showing up during this process has been very important to us.”

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