The city of Los Angeles, known for maintaining one of the highest numbers of small businesses in the country, is also notorious for having some of the most difficult bureaucracy to navigate. Perhaps that's changing. Last week Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa named a team aimed at giving small business owners the help and support they need to hurdle the rigorous tax and permits procedures that can sometimes stand in the way of success.
The team will include First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner and Todd Wilson, who was recently hired to oversee the city's newly created Office of Small Business Services. Beutner, a former partner at Blackstone Group and co-founder of the boutique investment-banking firm Evercore Partner, along with Wilson, brings private sector experience to the task. Along with the mayor, they believe small businesses are a key component to revitalizing the L.A. economy.
"Small business being a very important piece of our economy, we wanted to begin to address their needs beyond the broader policy programs," says Beutner.
As a small business owner himself, Beutner says he can readily empathize with small businesses facing the city's myriad departments and regulations.
"Sometimes what a small business owner needs goes across many of the departments, so we need to make it so there should be one point of contact," Beutner says.
He likens the project to a kind of "small business service window" that can address the needs and concerns of small businesses in a more efficient fashion.
Representatives of thee city say the new service will come at no extra cost to taxpayers or business owners already burdened with a tough economy. Instead, the city plans to repurpose funds from other areas of the budget with the hope of achieving future gains from small business growth.
It will also dedicate the initiative to giving a voice to small business owners in City Hall. The fledgling Small Business Advisory Committee is poised to call together representatives from small business, academic, and financial communities across Los Angeles. "We're going to use our role as convener to bring together groups of small businesses to better understand how they can offer their goods and services to city, state, and local governments," Beutner says.
An early example of the program's success comes from the Woodland Hills Auto Gallery, a luxury car dealer in the greater Los Angeles area. The company was looking to expand to new locations across the state but didn't have all the capital to do so.
Enlisting the help of the city's small business group, the company found out about state enterprise zones where it could receive tax credits, capital improvements, and utility incentives. By getting help from the city, and thereby expanding to enterprise zones that saved money, Woodland Hills was able to invest $12 million in capital improvements and hire 15 additional employees in the region.