The pandemic has taught some cities to help small businesses more
Written by Colin Wood
The city of Wichita, Kansas announced on Thursday the launch of a new portal for small businesses, the latest of such launches among local governments seeking to provide their residents with an increased level of assistance that has become more common during the pandemic.
that of Wichita new portal uses software from Qwally, a company that has received a boost Startup in Residence and CivStart business incubator programs. Like similar tools found in a growing number of cities, Wichita’s new portal is designed to make it easier for businesses to do things like apply for licenses or become certified to work for the city. For the city, too, the platform offers a way to automate administrative work and more easily find small businesses that might qualify to sell their services to the local government.
Matthew Cody, one of Qwally’s co-founders, told StateScoop that the handful of cities he’s worked with – which include Mobile, Alabama and Manor, Texas – have said they want to be more proactive in their work. with their small businesses, especially those owned by women and minorities.
“Now that things have sort of returned to normal, cities are assuming their role in supporting small businesses, realizing that they need to do more and continue to provide the services they were able to provide under stress. during the pandemic, ”Cody said.
Wichita’s new portal makes it easier for business owners because it uses “plain language content,” as opposed to government content, and it streamlines the application process for its Emerging Business Certification program, which offers small businesses a chance to sell to the city.
“It opens up a whole new subset of the business community that never thought they could be contactors before, which is what we’re trying to do with our platform,” Cody said. “You still have to interact with the city as a small business, whether it’s licensing or zoning. Let’s make this first interaction more impactful.
Cody said he has seen some minority business owners face an additional challenge in raising capital to tie their businesses together, and that all businesses can use additional support to navigate “complex” certification programs. cities. Modern digital service platforms, like Qwally, he said, empower local governments to help small businesses.
Small business portals were a growing trend among state and local governments even before the pandemic, but even among Qwally’s customers, Cody said he had seen more recently that such software could have disproportionate benefits, especially in places where dormant political will awaited a technological solution.
He highlighted his company’s work with Mobile, Alabama, starting in 2018, which doubled the number of women-owned and minority-owned businesses working with the city as a result of an initiative to increase the support for these groups. And in Kansas City, Missouri, said Cody, a small business office of just two staff members managed with its platform to process 4,000 requests in two months during the city’s peak renewal period this year.
In Wichita, authorities hope to use the platform to achieve similar results. In the city’s announcement, Deputy Mayor Brandon Johnson said the Qwally deal “extends to the city’s current efforts to engage emerging and underprivileged businesses and cut red tape to make our community and base our more inclusive suppliers ”.