City Hall’s Small Business Service Center will soon double in size — from one to two employees — in an effort to catalyze the Elm City’s entrepreneurial scene.
The Board of Alders voted last week to install a new administrative assistant within the service center, which primarily focuses on helping homegrown businesses in New Haven develop business plans and acquire permits and licenses. Currently, the center, a subsidiary of the Economic Development Administration, is directed by Jacqueline James, who has served as the center’s only employee since its inception last July. In the state of the city last week, Mayor Toni Harp emphasized the importance of small business development in spurring the local economy and lower the city’s 6.2 percent unemployment rate. She lauded the center’s efforts in this endeavor, noting that it has serviced 200 small businesses and assisted in the launch of 23 new ones thus far.
James said the new hire will help widen the center’s reach even further, as the employee will staff the office when James is away on site visits.
“This is a positive thing for the small business community in New Haven,” Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola said. “One person can’t do it alone.”
City Hall Spokesperson Laurence Grotheer said the new city employee will alleviate pressure on James as the Small Business Service Center’s sole representative. In its current organization, the center cannot operate, Grotheer said, when James is out of her office on site visits. The new administrative assistant will be able to keep the center open during business hours while James is away.
“The new administrative assistant will contribute to the small business sector of the economy by allowing the office to stay open full time,” Grotheer said. “It’s a problem that we have to close when the director is out.”
Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 said that the alders’ support of the Small Business Service Center is consistent with the mayor’s vision of diversifying employment in New Haven — a goal she outlined in the State of the City.
She added that the initiative could benefit recent Yale alumni looking to stay in New Haven and start small businesses after graduation.
Twenty-seven alders voted in favor of establishing the position while only three voted against the motion. Ward 12 Alder Richard Spears, Ward 21 Brendy Foskey-Cyrus and Ward 10 Anna Festa, the three who voted against creating the position, all cited possible tax hikes as their primary concern.
Festa added that the position was not necessary, noting that, using technology, business owners could contact James if she were not physically in the office.
“I don’t think it’s important right now because everyone is easily accessed through a smartphone,” Festa said.
Festa added that even if she thought the position were necessary, she would have wanted the board to wait to vote until March, when the mayor’s budget will be released. The position, which will pay a salary of $39,210 per year, is currently being funded from now until the end of the fiscal year in June through a special fund.
DeCola added that the alders would closely re-examine the administrative assistant position during budget talks later this spring.
Ricky Evans, the owner of Ricky D’s Rib Shack, was one of 26 city residents who participated in the Small Business Service Center’s “Passion to Profit.” Evans said the program, free for all successful applicants, taught important technical business practices.
Evans added that he is still working with the Small Business Service Center to plan a food truck festival on the New Haven Green. He said that even though James is the sole runner of the center, she has consistently made herself available.
“They provided good resources,” Evans said. “They helped us with business plans and pointed us in a good direction.”