Guest view: National Small Business Week an invitation for new neighbors

National Small Business Week on May 5-11 is the formal recognition of entrepreneurs, mom and pop shops and small businesses with generally fewer than 100 employees. While the Fortune 500s might grab more national economic headlines, it’s small businesses that truly define a region and give it character, vibrancy and a sense of place.

With more than 25 small business tenants in our Central Pennsylvania portfolio of plazas, we have deep appreciation for the hard work, risk and resilience of Pennsylvania’s nearly 1 million small businesses. They account for 99.7% of all business in the U.S., employ 56.8 million people and provided 1.9 million net new jobs in 2018. They are the drivers of our economy. Where they go, our neighborhoods go.

One of the most important decisions a small business owner makes is where to call home; and for retail and office space, entrepreneurs need an affordable and accessible location in a growing community. They need a landlord who understands the unique experiences of small business.

It’s hard to find an article or TV show about commercial real estate development that doesn’t position the developer or commercial property owner as an antagonist. This makes an intriguing and impassioned storyline, but I’m happy to report it’s not our region’s normal.

Brad Jones, president and CEO of Harristown Enterprises and owner of the near-capacity Strawberry Square, is intentional about attracting small business owners like Amma Johnson, owner of fashion retailer Amma Jo, and Shaun Donovan, a first-timer in the organic, independent grocery space with Provisions. “We need their passion and authenticity. They are the fresh faces of our city — informal brand ambassadors. Rite Aid and Sprint add critical services, but Little Amps and Best Friends Day Care keep people connected to our community. Attracting small businesses is what will sustain our future,” says Brad.

At Neighbors & Smith, our newest redevelopment site on Market Street in Camp Hill, every existing and ready-to-sign tenant is a woman-owned small business. A trend to support local works both ways. Local property ownership matters to them, and they feel more secure knowing we don’t outsource our eyes.  Small-shop retailers may need additional services to grow — marketing and PR support, build-out support and less complicated leases. They benefit significantly from our Plaza-wide events like Healthy Neighbors Fest and the Wicked Spooky Party aimed at bringing more foot traffic to their stores and giving back to the community.

How does the rising number of small businesses impact our region? And what does it reveal about the economy? When small business thrives, the entire neighborhood benefits. With each new store opening, there is a higher percentage of reinvestment back into our community. We appreciate our national anchor tenants, but they are more likely to tap corporate’s available services than to use our local talent for marketing support or local printers to print collateral pieces.

When boutique chocolatiers, artisan jewelers, trendy clothiers and tea and coffee shops flourish, it demonstrates the power and potential of a good address in a walkable community. On Market Street in Camp Hill, there are 44 women-owned small businesses. This statistic is revealing, not only declaring consumer preferences to shop small, but as a leading indicator of the economy and rising consumer confidence. It signals that financing and SBA loans are more accessible to a segment often forced to resort to non-conventional funding. Three of the existing tenants in the process of transitioning to Neighbors & Smith are expanding in both square footage and product lines.

In July 2016, Urban Land Institute, an international land use organization, was invited to Camp Hill Borough for a two-day Technical Assistance Panel. Professionals from around the country were tasked with developing a plan to promote a vibrant business corridor. After interviewing 26 stakeholders and business owners, they outlined formal recommendations with long-term goals like streetscape improvements and quick fixes to improve the pedestrian experience.

Their report was well-received and remains the framework for creating a more vibrant commercial district. Thanks to the record number of small businesses, the Downtown Camp Hill Association was formed and is emphasizing a walkable, shopable, family-friendly Market Street full of places where people are coming together.

We look forward to adding more small and women-owned businesses at our properties with new opportunities to connect beyond buying and selling. We’re grateful for their partnerships, their job creation, their unique products, and the social connections they bring to our cities and towns.

The invitation is open.

Richard E. Jordan III. president and CEO, Smith Land & Improvement Corp.

Richard E. Jordan III is president and CEO of Smith Land & Improvement Corporation, a commercial real estate development firm headquartered in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at rjordan3@smithlandusa.com.

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