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Mayor Fenty’s budget proposals clearly revealed his outgoing (none-too-soon) administration’s true attitude regarding the worth of the city’s neighborhood small business sector by zeroing out all funding for programs designed to provide the very support which was already demonstrating its worth in improving neighborhood retail and service businesses through such initiatives as the Historic Main Streets and Green Team programs. It is as if there was absolutely no understanding that it is to the small and micro business sector in the city that we will need to rely on for the creation of much needed new jobs.

With their modest city funding which the managers of those programs have been able to use to leverage additional funding through grants and donations from the private sector, there was starting to take hold across the city an improving environment –- both physically and perception-wise -– that was contributing to the willingness of entrepreneurs to actually want to open new business and for those just starting out, to receive valuable help in promoting their ventures through the programs and marketing undertaken by the many Main Streets groups.

In a recent posting on the twice-weekly TheMail e-letter, Shaw neighborhood activist Pleasant Mann perfectly summarized the worth of the work of these neighborhood business area programs as follows:

“. . . One [cut] is a proposed $1.6 million dollar cut of the funding for the District’s Main Streets program, which will kill our Shaw Main Streets. (Interestingly, the Department of Local and Small Business Development wants to keep $400,000 to pay for program staff although they will no longer have a program to manage.) The second cut is for $600,000 . . . to eliminate Green Team funding for the city, ending in the process the Shaw Main Streets Green Team, which tries to rehabilitate ex-offenders while providing essential maintenance to a struggling commercial corridor.

“There have been over seventy new businesses started on the 7th and 9th Street commercial corridors since Shaw Main Streets started. The organization has had to guide a number of them through the arcane licensing and regulatory processes needed to start and operate a small business in the District. The Green Team, which started in Shaw, is a proven model to move troubled people to stable employment that has been replicated in other parts of the city.”

In the same issue of that e-letter, Alexander Padro, Shaw Main Streets Executive Director, further elaborated on his organization’s accomplishments by “promoting the neighborhood’s history through projects like the Shaw Heritage Trail . . . and neighborhood tours; . . . promot[ing] neighborhood businesses through newsletters, ads, and special events, like First Saturdays and Shaw Open House. . . .” In addition, Padro noted, his program has successfully “completed the first phase of storefront façade improvements and is working on ten additional locations; helped businesses like Chez Hareg grow from one location on 9th Street to supplying Whole Foods stores as far west as Ohio; encouraged new development, like CityMarket at O, the Howard Theater renovation and the Marriott Marquis Convention Center Hotel; managed streetscape improvement projects . . .; helped attract new businesses to the area, like the upcoming Mandalay Café, and much more. There are many business owners who gratefully say, ‘I wouldn’t still be in business without Shaw Main Streets’ help.”

And what is described above is typical of these Main Streets organizations across the city, such as Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets (HDCMS) which has an impressive list of accomplishments that have helped in improving the ability of its small business stakeholders to survive and prosper. An example is how between last winter and this fall HDCMS, in collaboration with the Dupont Circle Merchants and Professionals Association and ANC 2B, aggressively coordinated with DDOT to ensure that the 17th Street streetscape project would be undertaken through stages so as not to cause the kind of business interruption and financial loss that has been the norm along other neighborhood commercial streets; if not for the HDCMS leadership it is doubtful that serious business disruptions would have otherwise been averted.

All this would come to a crashing stop if the Mayor’s proposal to eliminate funding were to have been accepted by the City Council. Fortunately for our local economy, the Council rejected that irrational de-funding idea.

The message in all this is that when the truly hard decisions need to be made about what programs to fund and what to eliminate for the purpose of reducing expenditures, programs that actually result in the generation of tax revenue should be the last ones to cut. To do otherwise would be fiscally irresponsible since it is imperative that everything be done to maximize revenue while at the same time eliminating needless spending. Only in so doing can critical human and health services programs and other crucial government services receive the funding needed to operate effectively.

So it is that we are encouraged by what we discern is a growing understanding by City Council members that the days of largesse and tax give-a-ways are numbered. Now the truly serious work will begin once the new Council session starts and the new Mayor takes command. We urge them to be bold, yet at the same time be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”