Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one. During her journey to establish and grow her nonprofit tutoring collaborative she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.
It seems obvious to me that when a city clusters industry-specific small businesses into an area of close proximity, the community experiences growth at a faster rate. It is the underlying strategy for increasing productivity, innovation and success.
Small businesses benefit from their neighbors in a relationship that promotes the exchange and sharing of marketing, skilled workforce and technologies. As cities grow, there should be an integrated strategy for the development of small businesses and not just an emphasis on larger developments, brands and infrastructure buildout.
In December 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report, “Smart Growth and Economic Success: Benefits for Real Estate Developers, Investors, Businesses, and Local Governments,” outlining the importance of smart growth development. The concept integrates “compact and walkable” with providing “a diverse range of choices in land uses, building types, transportation, homes, workplace locations and stores.”
The report states that “by locating businesses closer together, compact development can create a density of employment that increases economic productivity and attracts additional investment.” And of course, it makes logical sense to do so.
When I drive through high-density small-business areas, like those in Main South, I do not see the implementation of logical strategies such as that of compact development from city investment, but instead, I see it through the relationships among the existing businesses.
Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The gauntlet of transitions, or scroll down to explore more of her story.
The businesses in Main South have created their own network of mutually beneficial relationships. Many business owners come from various backgrounds, yet they understand the importance of small businesses working together to not only help each other succeed but keep the community around them moving in the right direction.
While many people in the city shy away from spending their disposable dollars at places like Hacienda Don Juan (875 Main St.) or Maria’s Kitchen (826 Main St.), the fact is that these small businesses are still a big part of the economic growth of the city. And factors like walkability, range of choices and compact development – three major components in the smart growth report – are the underlying reasons for their sustained success in a neighborhood like Main South.
Drive three blocks from the Aurora building to City Hall and there is an instant change in landscape once you reach Federal Square and the Hanover Theatre. The developments in the City Square area are those of millionaire dreams – large buildings, “market-rate” apartments ranging in rents from $1,500 to $2,200, increased available commercial and office space – and yet, the presence of density and small-business success continues to decline.
The city’s landscape is changing, but the vision for it doesn’t include everyone.
More recent entries from Giselle:
- The ‘Mini’ Series
- The sincerest form of thievery
- The inner-city detour
- The look of leadership
- The new home frame of mind
From Main South to Pleasant Street, the existing small businesses do not receive the proper investment or access to resources.
A growing city must offer a range of choices. The report states: “People and businesses value places that bring together a variety of activities to create vibrant environments. The demand for such places exceeds the supply.” While Worcester is in the preliminary stages of its current transformation, it is in city leaders’ best interests to place the same values shared by its residents into the businesses that matter.
Small businesses are the livelihood of many neighborhoods and an inspiration to many residents. Increasing transportation options – or, actually, fixing the present forms of transportation (especially the city bus line) to become efficient and effective would be a good start – increases access to available markets in the city, all while reducing living expenses for residents.
The plan could be so simple: Boost small businesses; mix small businesses with larger brands; increase walkability; and foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place.
If Worcester can stop trying to be like everyone else for one second, it can make a difference in the lives of many small-business owners and residents. It can prevent the negative effects of gentrification and it can make Worcester the next vibrant destination for potential residents, developers and startups.
A growing city should not ignore those who have sustained the backbone of its economy.
Follow Giselle’s inspiring story from the beginning: