This article is the third in our “Civic Minded” series, where we discuss ways small businesses can create positive impact in their local communities.
As a business owner or entrepreneur, you’ll want to ensure that your business interests are represented in the community and local government. While forming small business alliances can be one powerful way to bring together many voices within the business community, it’s also important to keep existing public and private business organizations on your radar, such as your local economic development corporation or chamber of commerce.
Many of these organizations provide useful benefits to local businesses, including financial and legal assistance, public funding, advertising opportunities, incentives, and more. Businesses that are active in local business organizations often benefit from the network of local business leaders, as well as the advocacy of their interests to the local government.
Here are four types of local business organizations that you can find New York City and beyond, along with the numerous benefits and resources that they provide to business owners:
Chambers of Commerce
A chamber of commerce is one of the oldest types of business organizations in the world—the first one in the U.S. started right here in New York City in 1768. Although a non-governmental institution, these nonprofit organizations, which are completely funded by member businesses, often have a close relationship with the local government and lobby for laws in favor of their members.
Within NYC, businesses can often join several chambers of commerce. The greater metropolitan area is covered by the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, while each of the boroughs also have their own as well, including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Bronx.
In addition to networking and educational events for businesses, one of the biggest services that local chambers provide is trade advocacy, with various programs and trade delegations promoting locally made goods both nationally and internationally. Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s “Brooklyn Goes Global” program, for example, hosts a number of trade shows to promote the Brooklyn Made brand, such as BKLYN DESIGNS (home furnishings) and Brooklyn Eats (food and beverage).
Most chambers also provide export assistance, including certificates of origin and free sale certificates, as well as conduct trade missions with delegations from around the world. These services are especially invaluable to companies looking to sell their products overseas. Other services include on-site business assistance, such as Chamber on the Go (provided by both Manhattan and Brooklyn Chambers), member referrals, member-to-member discounts, promotional opportunities, and more.
Economic Development Corporation (EDC)
An EDC is an organization whose mission is to promote economic development within a specific geographical area. These organizations, which are often publicly funded, play a complementary role to chambers of commerce. Whereas a chamber of commerce promotes the interests of existing businesses within a community, the EDC looks to expand growth and attract new businesses to the area through public-private partnerships, major real estate and infrastructure investments, and investments and funding for businesses and nonprofits in various industries.
The NYCEDC is one of the most prominent of its kind in the country, offering dozens of programs for entrepreneurs and startups such as Made In NY and CyberNYC, managing large-scale public land and infrastructure projects like The High Line and NYC Ferry, and managing space for job creation and growth like the Brooklyn Army Terminal.
Some important resources for small business owners can be found directly on their website, including lists of affordable workspaces; incentive programs across various industries; the NYC Capital Access Loan Guaranty Program for micro and small businesses; and film and event spaces.
NYCEDC also oversees such programs as Best for NYC, encouraging businesses to increase their social impact; HireNYC, a free program to connect workers to development projects; and Opportunity M/W/DBE, an initiative to help minority, women-owned, and disadvantaged business enterprises with access to capital, loans, training, and construction.
Business owners can stay up to date with city happenings by following NYCEDC’s website, which is frequently updated with news, events, blog content and more, or subscribe to the organization’s newsletter to receive info directly via mail.
Business Improvement Districts (BIDs)
BIDs are defined geographical areas, most often specific neighborhoods, in which businesses or local commercial property owners are required to pay a tax or levy to fund projects within the district’s boundaries. BIDs are public/private partnerships that are mostly funded through the levy but can also receive additional public and private funds, including grants, donations, sponsorships, fees, and rental income.
New York City has 75 BIDs, the most of any city in the United States, serving 93,000 businesses and investing $148 million in local neighborhoods annually. Many New Yorkers may already be familiar with some of the larger ones, such as the Times Square Alliance, Union Square Partnership, Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO Improvement District, and more. Most BIDs assist with neighborhood services like street cleaning and maintenance, public safety, marketing and events, capital improvements, beautification, advocacy and business development.
As a business owner within a BID, you’ll want to stay informed of what your BID is doing and how they are spending your tax dollars. As nonprofit, publicly funded organizations, BIDs are required to make their annual reports and finances public, so that the local community can see what projects the BID has supported. Many BIDs also host a local annual meeting to discuss happenings and new changes for the year.
The NYC website lists all 75 BIDs, with links to the district maps, websites, contact information, and yearly assessment (levies). Not located within an existing BID? The city can help you start one in your district.
City government business resources
Many major cities in the U.S. have dedicated business resources available through the city government website, including administrative services, small business services, programs for entrepreneurs, tax incentives or financing resources, and much more. As a business owner, take the time to explore your local government website to learn what might be available to you.
New York City, for example, offers dedicated portals to business owners, including its NYC Business site, which allows owners and operators to apply for licenses and permits, manage violations or fines, and access business courses and accelerators. The city also offers support for legal and financial assistance, recruitment and training, as well as incentives and tax credits.
The city also runs such initiatives as Love Your Local to support independent shops and WE NYC, an initiative for women entrepreneurs. New business owners can also take advantage of free courses offered by the NYC Small Business Services department; classes range from social media marketing strategies to signing a commercial lease.
It’s all about community involvement
Businesses that are active in their local business organizations are not only more informed about local events and happenings, but they are also able to build a greater network of support among their peers and fellow business owners. A stronger business community means a stronger business for you!