Homer City Council member Rachel Lord discusses her concerns with funding the Alaska Small Business Development Center Homer Business Advisory position during the Jan. 10 council meeting. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)

Homer City Council member Rachel Lord discusses her concerns with funding the Alaska Small Business Development Center Homer Business Advisory position during the Jan. 10 council meeting. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)

Council says ‘yes to small businesses’

Homer City Council votes 4-2 in favor of partially funding the Homer Business Advisory position.

The Alaska Small Business Development Center, or AKSBDC, will continue providing personal, no-cost business advisory services to small businesses in Homer after the Homer City Council voted 4-2 to partially fund the Homer Business Advisor position.

With immense support from community members, including the current Homer Business Advisor Robert Green, the city council passed Ordinance 21-68 and appropriated $25,000 from the general fund, which will fund a portion of the advisor’s salary. The council will fund $25,000 annually for three years to support the position.

Along with allocating the $25,000, the ordinance requires an annual report on the office’s activities and statistics.

A recent survey conducted by the AKSBDC identified 1,897 small businesses in Homer, or one small business for every two-and-a-half city residents, Cliff Cochran, the AKSBDC Kenai Peninsula Center director, explained during the Dec. 13, 2021 regular city council meeting. However, as the business center for the southern Kenai Peninsula, Homer serves a larger population outside city limits.

“Support for small businesses in Alaska is needed more than ever. There is so much information out there to process that it is so important to have a local, reliable source to lean on,” Cochran said during Monday’s meeting. “ … Tonight is your chance to say ‘yes to small businesses.’ Small business is the backbone of Homer, and by supporting tonight’s ordinance to keep the Homer business advisor position funded, you’re supporting your businesses that provide your food, health care, our services and entertainment, to name a few.”

Cochran also shared a client satisfaction survey which showed a 98% satisfaction rate over the last five years for working with Homer’s business advisors. Green has worked half time out of the Homer Chamber of Commerce to provide specialized business advising for the last year. Former Homer mayor Bryan Zak previously served in the position.

“Now with our current Homer business advisor for the past year plus, we’ve had marked increase in metrics,” Cochran said. “We’ve seen over 500 hours of advising; 89 clients have been served — that’s back and forth transaction, but of course touched many more folks. … 10 new businesses have started and $4.4 million in capital infusion has been injected into the Homer economy from the work that we’ve done.”

Brad Anderson, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce, testified to the necessity of the business advisory position in Homer, sharing his experiences watching Green work with clients to successfully start their new business.

“We’re a town where a vast majority, 98%, of our businesses are small businesses, so that is the lifeblood of our economy,” Anderson said. “Watching those businesses come through, a lot of them are great technicians, they understand the business they want to do, but they’re not technically great business people, so they need that help to structure their business. … It’s a big effort to really try if someone opens their business that they can be successful.”

The Homer Economic Development Advisory Commission unanimously supported passage of the ordinance, stating in the ordinance “the EDC considers this investment to be of minimal cost and of great benefit to local businesses to have local advisor services,” and the commission believes the $25,000 will be recuperated to the city through increased sales tax revenue and property tax values.

Karin Marks, a small business owner and member of the Economic Development Advisory Commission, also shared her support of the ordinance and the advisory position.

“From my perspective with today’s situation, it is important that Homer help provide assistance to people with ideas, interests and skills to create and grow small businesses here,” Marks said. “We as a community embrace small business. Small business creates, through taxes, the money for our city to provide their services.”

While the ordinance passed with the majority of votes and support from the community, council members Rachel Lord and Jason Davis, small business owners themselves, shared concerns for funding the position. Both stated their no vote did not stem from a lack of support for the organization, but instead whether or not it is the city’s responsibility to fund the position.

“Fundamentally, while I deeply appreciate the request, I can’t support line-item funding for operations for nonprofits outside of our current (agreements),” Lord said. “ … I’m 100% on board with the support for the SBDC, and I am going to still not support this. … I will say that there are a lot of organizations that provide support for the businesses, for social services that provide support for this community in a lot of different ways. My hesitancy, my ‘no’ vote is based on the city budget.”

“When we talk about the city services that the city provides, the tax payers have said ‘yes, this is what we want.’ When we start opening the door to operating funds and providing support to allow others to operate, no matter how great their services are, for me, it comes down to those are not what we as a community have decided are city services that the city is providing with taxpayer dollars,” Lord continued.

Davis recounted his positive experiences with the AKSBDC when starting his own business and their continued support, saying, “In all cases, I’ve found it to be useful.”

However, he shared his concern that the ordinance could lead to complete withdrawal of funds from the state and federal government if the city moved to partially fund the position.

“I’m a little bit hesitant about going down the road of putting local money at this in a way that is almost certain to lead to no more borough or state, or little borough or state funding, and open an open-ended commitment that is certain to be renewed every year beyond even the three mentioned here,” Davis said.

“I support having this office in Homer 100%,” Davis continued. “ … But it still comes down to that question of is it the best use of taxpayer money for us to just start appropriating funds for this particular job when the state and the borough and the federal government have been funding it until now, and just very suddenly decided they weren’t going to,” Davis said.

Council member Caroline Venuti, co-sponsor of the ordinance, said the ordinance fights for what she ran for council for: to build up and support local businesses. With the EDC’s full support, Venuti said she the ordinance was too important to set aside.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our community, and I am honored to be asked to do this. I think it is very important that we fund it,” Venuti said.

Ultimately, the council voted 4-2 in favor of the ordinance with a majority of the council members stating they would be interested in seeing the annual report before continuing to fund the position for another two years.

The Homer business advisor position expenses are roughly $62,000 annually, which includes salary, benefits, office lease and supplies. The AKSBDC funds roughly $34,000 of the expenses, with the Homer Chamber of Commerce providing an in-kind donation for office rent and equipment at around $3,600 annually, leaving the additional $25,000 to be funded.

Green took time during public comment to introduce himself and detail the experience he’s had working as the local advisor. Green is also a financial advisor and owns Robert Scott Green Financial Services LLC.

“I see myself and even on occasion tell my clients that I am more than an advisor, I am their cheerleader,” Green said. “I am there as a resource, and I am happy to be there as a resource.”

For more information about the Alaska Small Business Development Center, visit aksbdc.org/.

Reach Sarah Knapp at sarah.knapp@homernews.com.

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