Public and private partnerships are providing critical solutions to address the digital divide for small businesses.
The City of Seattle Office of Economic Development (OED) and Comcast are partnering to launch and expand critical digital resources to support Seattle’s small businesses most impacted by COVID-19 and the digital divide. Comcast contributed nearly $40,000 in addition to OED’s $50,000 investment to Kay Tita, a social impact nonprofit, who will implement the new Digital Sales Access Program (DSAP). DSAP will support 50 small businesses by equipping them with a point-of-sales (POS) system and connecting participating businesses with tools and training needed to pivot their operations to a new digital system. This new system will allow small business owners to grow their business by switching from cash-only to accepting debit, credit and other digital forms of payment. This program will increase businesses e‑commerce capacity and improve businesses digital literacy, financial awareness and overall business health.
Additionally, OED and Comcast partnered with community-based organization HomeSight and neighborhood business districts to expand the Essential Southeast Seattle Initiative (ESES) online marketplace for small businesses. ESES is part of a digital access initiative for local businesses in Southeast Seattle to adapt to an increasingly digital economy, with targeted support for small Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) businesses. This program includes an e-commerce platform for Southeast Seattle small businesses; digital access support to get their business online; and technology equipment to meet business needs. This initiative was developed in response to COVID-19 with a $50,000 investment from Comcast to encourage and support the community’s ability to shop local and support small businesses through online platforms.
“This past year has been truly devastating for so many of our small businesses. We saw early on that businesses that could quickly pivot to online delivery and e-commerce solutions were able to adapt more readily to the challenges of this pandemic. As we look towards recovery and reopening, it will take all of us working together to develop creative and innovative solutions to address the issues that impact our most vulnerable businesses. I am proud of the intentional collaborative approach our Office of Economic Development has been taking, by working with organizations such as Comcast, HomeSight and Kay Tita, among others, to connect small businesses to technology and the digital and financial literacy resources that will help them not only stabilize but thrive after this truly unprecedented year.”Mayor Jenny Durkan.
“Seattle is a technology hub; however, some small businesses do not have the same level of technological infrastructure that other businesses have. Comcast and other local organizations have been critical partners for OED, as we have worked together to respond to the digital divide that is impacting our small businesses owned by people of color, immigrants and refugees. Public-private partnerships will support our ability to more quickly and holistically respond to the great needs our small businesses have.”Pamela Banks, Director of the Office of Economic Development and Director of Recovery and Equitable Investments.
“Strong public-private partnerships are uniquely positioned to have a positive impact and support important causes in our local community. Our collaboration with the Office of Economic Development over the last year is a direct example of that. We are proud to work with Kay Tita, HomeSight, and OED to support the recovery of Seattle’s vibrant BIPOC small business community and help it grow through more equitable access to technology, funding and other resources.”Rodrigo Lopez, Region Senior Vice President, Comcast Washington.
To be eligible for the new Digital Sales Access Program, small businesses must have a maximum of five employees; be interested in learning how to leverage digital resources to grow their business; and be cash-only or in need of a POS upgrade. Each eligible business owner will receive POS equipment, a Square stand, an iPad Air and one-on-one POS training. Businesses that meet the eligibility requirements can apply by Tuesday, June 15, and find more information at kaytita.org/dsap.
“To have digital access is only part of the journey. We’ve created a program where a personal connection with the business owners is integral in every step of sharing, learning, and growing.”David Pierre-Louis, Founder and Executive Director of Kay Tita.
Addressing the digital divide by removing digital access barriers that exacerbated the negative economic impact of COVID-19 on small businesses, particularly BIPOC small and medium-size businesses, is a key strategy of OED. Ongoing public health restrictions have increased businesses and customers’ dependence on e-commerce and technology capabilities to keep businesses functioning and connect customers to the goods and services they need. Small businesses with the equipment, capital and digital skillset were able to pivot more quickly than those that lacked access to POS systems, capital to purchase technology and specialized digital literacy skills.
For small businesses without capital or with language barriers, it can be dauting to adopt and implement new technologies without support. New or up to date equipment can revolutionize the way a business functions and ensure they can remain competitive. For this reason, OED and private partners developed programs to provide necessary technical support to business owners so they can develop digital skills to maintain this new technology.
ESES — the collaboration between OED, HomeSight, Comcast and local business districts, including Beacon Hill, Columbia City/Hillman City, Mt. Baker, Othello/MLK and Rainier Beach —recently re-launched essentialseseattle.com featuring more small businesses in the Southeast Seattle neighborhoods. OED encourages residents to support these businesses as some have been the most disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Southeast Seattle businesses interested in being featured in this digital marketplace can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Essential Southeast Seattle was a SE Seattle business district collaboration originally created in April of 2020 to help combat the loss of business due to the impact of COVID-19, and while it still serves that very purpose, the partnership with the City of Seattle Office of Economic Development and Comcast will help launch our vital small businesses into the digital era. This initiative will provide digital access support and technology equipment to our small businesses — the majority owned by people of color, immigrants and refugees, to help fill the digital void felt in Southeast Seattle. We are incredibly grateful and excited to be a part of this partnership.”Sarah Valenta, Director of Community and Business Development at HomeSight.
As the City moves toward implementing equitable recovery efforts, investments in resources and programs that support small businesses’ ability to have equal access to digital equipment and digital skills will be required for them to equitably participate in the economy of the future. Additionally, public and private partnerships can strengthen economic recovery and community resilience for Seattle by leveraging each other’s strengths and investments to extend the impact of the resources available.
“We will continue to support our small businesses’ ability not only to survive, but to thrive in our city as we plan for long-term recovery. We will have to be creative in our solutions and intentional in how we implement recovery strategies, especially for our BIPOC businesses who have suffered disproportionately not just from COVID-19, but from institutional racism and disinvestment for generations.”Pamela Banks, Director of the Office of Economic Development and Director of Recovery and Equitable Investments.
Recently, OED, Comcast and Jacqueline Christian, small business owner of Six17 Salon and recipient of the Small Business Stabilization Fund, participated in a conversation about how we can work together to advance digital equity. To learn more about the importance and impact of public-private partnerships, watch the recording of The Digital Divide for BIPOC Small Businesses panel here.
Comcast’s longstanding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion accelerated in June 2020 with a $100 million commitment to help drive lasting reform and champion a more connected and equitable world. This commitment included investing in local communities across Washington state and the small businesses that shape them through the Comcast RISE program, a multi-year, multi-faceted initiative designed to help strengthen BIPOC-owned, small businesses hardest hit by the pandemic, by providing marketing and technology upgrades. To date, Comcast has offered grants to approximately 100 businesses statewide, including more than 30 in Seattle, and is accepting applications for the program at comcastrise.com/apply.
OED’s investments in digital access strategies also include the Digital Bridge Program and Youth Web Design Program created in partnership with the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle (ULMS) that provides an opportunity for BIPOC students to learn web design and create professional-level websites for Black-owned small businesses that are without or have limited web presence. This year, OED and ULMS will host two new cohorts that will serve 30 additional BIPOC students and up to 60 interested Black-owned businesses. Students will also earn Seattle Public School Career and Technical Education (CTE) credits toward their graduation requirements in addition to learning web design and marketing, earning an industry accredited website design certification and receiving a paid stipend. Black-owned businesses interested in this program must be based in Seattle and have an up-to-date Seattle Business License Number. Applications are open and eligible businesses can apply here by Tuesday, June 15.
OED continues to support business owners by connecting them to resources from the federal government such as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, Paycheck Protection Program, Restaurant Revitalization Fund and Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, as well as other resources that are available from the state and philanthropic partners. OED also provides in-language technical assistance to access city, state and federal resources. Businesses can access this service by calling 206-684-8090 or emailing email@example.com. Bilingual assistance is available in Amharic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Somali, Spanish, Thai, Tigrinya and Vietnamese.
The Seattle Office of Economic Development is committed to building an equitable and inclusive economy by promoting access to economic opportunities for all of Seattle’s diverse communities. For more information, visit seattle.gov/EconomicDevelopment.