By April Berg / For The Herald
Our local small businesses are the strong beating heart of every community.
So what can we do, together, to help our existing local businesses thrive and bring more new small businesses from idea to reality?
This issue is important because half of all workers in Washington state are employed by small businesses, not corporate giants. And as a former small business owner, I know the opportunities and challenges our local businesses face.
It’s a myth that the way to create jobs is by courting outside corporations to move into your state or community. Experts say the clearest path to prosperity is helping your existing small businesses expand and grow.
Let’s go over what happened in Olympia this session, then talk about next steps.
The biggest news is lawmakers passed a law (Senate Bill 5980) that will exempt many small businesses from paying any business and occupation (B&O) taxes. The filing threshold is now $125,000 per year.
We also passed my legislation (House Bill 1846) extending and expanding tax incentives on data centers in rural counties. With so many high-tech companies calling our state home, this is a great way to create more jobs in every corner of the state.
And the operating budget includes significant funding to help our small businesses move past the pandemic and thrive, including:
• $100 million in funding for hospitality businesses;
• $25 million in small business assistance for arts, heritage, and cultural organizations;
• $75 million for small business disaster response, innovation, and resiliency;
• $20 million to support convention centers;
• $13 million to increase the small business B&O tax credit; and
• $12 million to attract more motion pictures to Washington state.
The state construction budget also includes funding to bring broadband internet to every corner of the state, as fast internet is no longer a luxury but a necessity for businesses, just like running water and electricity.
The work isn’t done, however. It takes support from all levels to help new small businesses off the ground and help existing firms expand.
The housing crisis and rising rents are a huge impediment to local businesses, which also struggle when there’s a lack of infrastructure. I introduced legislation on this issue (House Bill 1958) to drive rural economic development by helping key infrastructure projects achieve shovel-ready status so they can compete for federal infrastructure dollars. By developing a pipeline of shovel-ready infrastructure projects, this bill helps our small towns and rural communities access federal resources and recover from the effects of the pandemic.
While this legislation passed the House, it didn’t pass the Senate, meaning there’s more work to be done.
Finally, we need to train and mentor the next generation of small businesses owners.
Starting a new business is like climbing a mountain. Our public schools, universities and state agencies can and should do a better job of working together so anyone with a great idea can set up a storefront and turn that “Closed” sign to “Open.”
Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek, is a former small business owner and former aerospace program manager who represents the 44th Legislative District.
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