Cary Moon’s Open Letter to Seattle’s Small and Local Business Owners & Entrepreneurs
We all admire the breakout entrepreneurs from our region and are proud of the deep well of creativity fueling our innovative local economy. It is energizing and inspiring; we invent things here. Our city’s robust homegrown businesses are engines of an economy that, when it works, builds local prosperity, local jobs, access to opportunity, and resilient communities.
At the same time, we see the widening gap between those who are thriving and those who are struggling. Worsening wealth inequality represents the most disturbing reflection of our society. In our city, we care about the wellbeing of everyone, but we are failing to ensure our economy works for everyone. When an ambitious student from Somalia is doing homework on her phone in front of the library because there’s no internet at home, or when a mom in Lake City is working multiple jobs just to afford rent for her family, that hurts all of us.
Our city is on a path to becoming a playground for the rich unless we map out a real strategy for an inclusive economic future.
I come from a small business family. My father bought a company out of bankruptcy and — together with committed employees — built it into a stable and thriving business that provided more than 100 jobs. I was the operations manager helping to guide the success with further innovations to the culture and processes. Our business had an inclusive profit sharing plan, an employee ownership plan, and a commitment to collaboration with employees at all levels.
When I look back at all the opportunities I had as a young, white, woman in America’s middle class, all the doors that were open to me, I am angry at what we are leaving the next generation. Every kid deserves the chance to fulfill their dreams.
We need to tackle this challenge head on, recognize the causes of our city’s widening economic disparity, and intentionally guide our local economy toward building wealth and economic security for all communities.
My opponent in the Seattle Mayor’s race talks about the economy like it’s the weather — as if it is something that just happens and there is nothing we can do about it, or as if growing wealth inequality is somehow surprising and unexpected. This is a crucial mistake. We have to approach the economy as a human-made system structured and influenced by rules that we the people write. Seattle’s challenges are not unique; many cities are facing the twin issues of concentration of wealth and consolidation of corporate ownership of property and businesses. But with our city’s strong entrepreneurial identity, progressive ideals, and diverse industries, we can work together to make Seattle a place where everyone can share in our prosperity and thrive.
Local Enterprise, Local Security
We need to develop a proactive 21st century industrial policy based on creative industries, green technology, advanced manufacturing, and food production — in addition to supporting our thriving tech base. As Mayor, I will implement policies to strengthen these diverse sectors that create real and tangible value. Supporting local innovation and local ownership will keep wealth local, build family wage jobs, and deepen access to success for all Seattleites.
- Understand the “next economy” and how our economy will evolve: Information technology, gaming, and cloud computing employ lots of people at good salaries, and we need to sustain this healthy ecosystem of tech. But we also need to focus on what is coming next, and keep a broad balance of business sectors so we sustain diverse pathways to wealth and diverse jobs. In our region we are great innovators in clean energy technology, biotech, aerospace, food production, and space exploration. Let’s convene deep macroeconomic expertise — along with business leaders, technology futurists, the Port of Seattle, labor unions, and groups marginalized from the current economy — to visualize and establish a long-term plan. We can map out a 21st century green industrial strategy that focuses on making things locally, builds the clean energy future, and plows wealth back into other local businesses via local supply chains and local procurement.
- Protect and nurture our ecosystem of small businesses and entrepreneurship: Any city would be blessed to have such a robust ecosystem of small businesses. From Main Street retailers to independent professional companies, small businesses are an essential part of our quality of life, the face of our creative culture, and they employ many thousands of Seattleites. The ingenuity and hard work of Seattle’s small businesses create two thirds of our new jobs year after year. There are warning signs: too many local businesses are struggling to make ends meet due to escalating commercial rents, higher labor costs, and competition from online discounters. Many entrepreneurs face steep challenges when attempting to expand: it is hard to access capital, and hard to find expertise securing necessary permits and contractors. These challenges are compounded for immigrant and refugee neighbors when there are language barriers in navigating complicated regulations and contracts. As Mayor, I will establish an office that gives effective, user-friendly technical assistance to all small and medium-sized enterprises to make sure they have the knowledge they need to start and grow. I will implement the best solutions for commercial rent stabilization. I will explore creative avenues for partnering with aspiring entrepreneurs, especially from communities of color, to improve access to loans and technical assistance in navigating all the protections and regulations. I will incentivize and encourage developers in established neighborhoods to work directly with fledgling POC led businesses to give them a chance. In addition, I will lead SDOT toward minimizing the negative financial impacts of construction and street improvements on local businesses by doing better coordination and more transparent outreach and communications.
- Expand community ownership of enterprises: Who owns our businesses matters. The more Seattle residents own our city’s businesses, the more we can keep profits and wealth in community, long term. We’ve all had that moment of being at an intersection in the suburbs, seeing the same exact chain stores as in the last suburb, and being grateful that Seattle isn’t like that. Local ownership builds economic security and resilience. The roughly 15% of Seattleites who are Latino or African American own just 5% of the city’s small businesses. Let’s support women and minority owned businesses with direct technical assistance, assistance with access to capital, and creating opportunities to win contracts. Let’s seek to expand worker co-ops, employee shared ownership programs, and legacy business planning with incentives and mentoring. Broad ownership plays a crucial role in building economic security across the city, and especially within communities of color and immigrant and refugee communities. As Mayor, my goal will be to triple the number of thriving minority and women owned businesses in Seattle, and double the base of local ownership.
- Establish a strong culture of local procurement: Our large institutions and large businesses can directly sustain other smaller local businesses through their procurement and supply chains. The University of Washington alone spends billions annually on goods and services. The more these larger players procure what they need locally in Seattle, the more we keep wealth circulating back into community. This can start at the City with its purchasing, but should not stop there. What if we worked together with our large companies and institutions to shift a large portion of their procurement to locally owned purveyors and service providers? In Seattle, where many of our local business owners already do much toward building a healthier and more inclusive society, we can and should establish a new culture of mutual support in our business culture.
- Listen to small businesses: We need to develop solutions with small business operators and entrepreneurs. Business owners want what is best for their employees, their long-term stability, and their city’s economy. Start-ups and spin-offs create new pathways to building local wealth and local jobs — and who knows what start-up will grow to become the next Boeing or Microsoft. Over 80% of small businesses employ less than ten people, and most of them are busy 100% of their time running their businesses. Instead of creating another large and unwieldy commission, or letting the national and regional Chamber of Commerce shape the debate, I will convene each business sector to listen and understand their needs, and explore how the city can best help them thrive. Sector-based focus groups — restaurants, music and nightlife, manufacturing, freelancers, ethnic businesses, etc — will help the city maintain direct communication with small business owners and respond more effectively to their particular needs and proposals.
Access To Investment
Entrepreneurs face significant obstacles accessing the capital needed to start, maintain or grow a local business. As Mayor, I would ensure we are examining best practices in other cities and are working in partnership with neighborhood BIAs and small business leaders to develop strategies that are tailored to the needs of our local businesses.
- Join forces with other cities to push the legislature: While we get our house in order at the municipal level, we should also keep pressure on the legislature. We need to use the tax code to both level the economic playing field for small businesses and fund excellent infrastructure that businesses count on. We need Olympia to raise sufficient revenue to invest in infrastructure that all businesses — old and new, east and west — need to thrive: K-12 education, affordable tuition at universities, transit, safe streets, reliable and clean electricity, public safety. This will entail implementing a more steeply progressive B&O tax, whereby small businesses pay less and big corporations pay their fair share, closing the useless tax loopholes for big corporations, and pursuing a capital gains tax for unearned wealth. We can only make the investments we need if we build the courage for balanced and sufficient tax code.
- Create a Community Development Authority: Our city has many struggling or degraded commercial properties that need physical improvements, especially doing earthquake retrofits on unreinforced masonry. Let’s analyze if we could and should establish a citywide Community Development Authority that can acquire and improve struggling commercial properties and transfer them to a neighborhood land trust. We can secure sites for community based development, create pathways to local ownership by future generations and keep commercial rents affordable.
- Double down on the effort to establish a state public bank. A non-profit bank that works 100% in the public interest can provide so many services that for-profit banks can’t or won’t: cheap bonds to fund large public investments, access to low interest loans for expanding local businesses, affordable or free banking for low-income Seattleites, and additional capital for affordable housing production. If a statewide bank proves too difficult to achieve in Olympia, let’s pursue a Seattle-based municipal bank. In the meantime, let’s collaborate with local credit unions and give everyone the opportunity to put their savings to work for the community as impact investors into small businesses.
We need to broaden access to family wage jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, especially for African Americans, Native Americans, people from communities of color and immigrant and refugee communities. As Mayor, I will expand job training opportunities for workers of all ages, ensure women earn equal pay for equal work and provide protections for freelancers in our growing gig economy.
- Expand effective programs to connect local kids to great local jobs: We have a growing gap between the skills that kids who graduate from our local schools have and the skills needed to win jobs in our current and future industries. The opportunity gap in our schools is growing at the same time that jobs are left unfilled. Let’s reverse this trend locally by facilitating apprenticeship programs with large tech corporations, investing more deeply in pre-apprenticeship programs run by unions and industrial sectors, putting more resources into culturally competent mentoring and training programs for kids from disadvantaged communities, expanding our priority hire program, and developing 2-year degrees in tech sector jobs with SPS and local colleges. The City can play a more proactive role as convener and funder to match workforce training to all jobs in sectors, from construction to software development.
- Lead the nation in making workplaces more equitable and accommodating for folks at all ages and stages of life: Our city needs to confront wage equality for Seattle’s women and people of color. That’s why I have proposed a bill of rights for freelancers and measures to achieve wage equity, including pay data collection, a ban on salary histories, and improved equal pay discrimination enforcement. The city should also look at ways to make our workplaces more flexible to allow new parents what they need to keep their lives in balance: for example, job sharing and flexible scheduling. At the other end of the age spectrum, people are working later in life. We need to improve access to employment and skills training for seniors as many older workers lack the occupational training necessary to compete in today’s job market.
As an engineer with experience in the manufacturing industry, I know the importance of preserving industrial lands. And as an urban planner, I know that freight mobility is crucial to our local economy. As Mayor, I will partner with our city’s manufacturers, ensure we have excellent freight mobility, and make the implementation of municipal broadband one of my top priorities.
- Retain manufacturing businesses and industrial land: Good family-wage jobs from industry are crucial to a city’s local economy: they are much more likely to be stable, long-term, and provide career ladders for employees. As Mayor, I will work to preserve our city’s manufacturing businesses by partnering with the Port, protecting industrial land, and ensuring we have excellent freight mobility and commercial delivery capacity. And we need to look to do better at ensuring we have enough transit service, shared mobility options, and safe walking and biking facilities for workers to get to jobs in industrial lands.
- Pursue full implementation of municipal broadband: Access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet is an equity issue, straight up. Quality is low and costs are too high in most of the south end neighborhoods. As Mayor, I will work with Council to develop a viable proposal and figure out how to make municipal broadband, as a city-wide utility, a reality. If we all agree that everyone deserves clean water and reliable electricity and public education, then let’s establish that everyone deserves access to high quality service at an affordable cost.
Here in Seattle, we strive to create healthy and safe communities by working together to help each other. As Mayor, I will help expand self-organized neighborhood programs and prioritize smart development of neighborhoods that allow for access to goods and services without requiring a car.
- Strengthen our communitarian culture and increase resiliency: We all want to feel we belong, and the City can play a strong role in setting the tone and facilitating community cohesion. Let’s plan complete neighborhoods where we can access goods and services from local businesses without getting in a car. Let’s preserve existing, high capacity historic buildings that provide affordable housing and retrofit all buildings and houses to save energy and water. Let’s amplify and expand self-organized neighborhood services like P-patches, fruit gleaning projects, “Buy-Nothing Groups,” tool lending libraries, fix-it centers, and food hubs. Let’s invest in supporting neighborhood planning and facilitating neighborhood level disaster preparedness. Let’s value craft, culture, and care — from social work to teachers — and the hidden role parents, often women, play in providing for needs in the home, such as childcare. It’s important for neighbors to provide and watch out for each other, particularly in tough times as we have seen in Houston, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
There is so much we can do to reverse wealth inequality and strengthen economic security in Seattle. Let’s lead the country by intentionally prioritizing LOCAL: economic development via local ownership, supporting local small businesses, and expanding access to entrepreneurship and good jobs for our local young people. The choice is stark: we can work to sustain the complexity and diversity and creativity of our city’s economy, or we can passively allow powerful corporate interests to overwhelm the start-ups and mom and pops. The more large corporations own our city, the more it will feel like an office park.
From the arts venues and imaginative restaurants that are the fascinating face of Seattle’s beloved creative culture, to the shops run by immigrant and refugee families that provide essential stability for their communities, to the 35% of us who work as freelancers, our city’s local businesses create good jobs, reinvest their profits locally, and circulate wealth back into community. Together we can build a smart economic strategy and focus on implementing pragmatic solutions that match our values. As Mayor, I will always make economic development and economic equity a priority in my administration.