A study from Astig Planning identifies barriers and solutions to starting a business in Johnson County

Inclusive Economic Development Plan Draft Rents, resource information gaps, connectivity to business support systems and access to space are among the barriers business owners face. (the newspaper)

V Fixmer-Oraiz, founder and CEO of Astig Planning, presented the plan’s findings to the Iowa City Council this week. (Featured photo)

Megan Alter, Iowa City Council

IOWA CITY – Affordable spaces, mentoring programs and community spaces are among the proposals to help better support minority business owners in Johnson County.

The comprehensive economic development plan, led by Iowa City’s Community and Environmental Planning Business, has been conducting research, surveys, focus groups and interviews for nearly a year. The plan identifies barriers and solutions for historically underrepresented business owners in Johnson County.

V Fixmer-Oraiz, founder and CEO of Astig Planning, presented the plan’s findings to the Iowa City Council this week.

“The good thing is that there’s a lot of initiative and interest, and especially funding for the (American Rescue Plan Act),” Fixmer-Oraiz said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Hopefully, this plan will show that there is work to be done and that there are many obstacles that need to be overcome.”

The Iowa City Council, in the process of allocating pandemic relief dollars, intends to use the study to guide funding decisions to support BIPOC business owners. The city has tentatively set aside $4 million to $6 million for potential initiatives.

According to the city memo, city staff will work to develop targeted proposals.

“It’s just amazing and it’s just layers and layers to dive into,” Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“I think we’re in a much better position moving forward because of this work.

Barriers in Johnson County

The draft plan cites rental costs, resource information gaps, lack of connectivity to business support systems and access to space as some of the barriers business owners face.

Another barrier is if individuals are intimidated into accessing the bank or if the documents or information are not accessible.

“We’re also talking about financial literacy,” Fixmer-Oraiz said. We are talking about the types of these types that actually buy on financial resources.

The study found that there are not many programs in Johnson County that specifically focus on serving low-income business owners. The existing programs are still emerging.

Another obstacle is that most materials about loan or grant programs are only available in English. According to the survey, 17 percent of institutions provide their information in different languages, most often in Spanish.

“You don’t just want a document translated into another language,” says Fixmer-Oraiz. You must have a follower who can understand that person. We’re not just talking about one and done. We are talking about dynamic interactions.

Possible solutions

The plan has five recommended action items, each with its own set of suggested changes or improvements.

There are three action items for internal changes:

  • Changes in policies and procedures at several levels
  • Internal work for local governments and business support institutions
  • Encourage organizations that currently support small businesses.

There are two action items that comprise “public support”:

  • Provide an undervalued resource to the entrepreneur and business community
  • Build infrastructure to create spaces for undervalued businesses to thrive.

One-on-one mentoring opportunities will be a “game changer,” Fixmer-Oraiz said. It will be an opportunity for a budding business owner to hear from someone who has navigated the financial landscape, legal jargon and faced similar hurdles.

Other solutions identified include affordable spaces, gift opportunities, translated documents, community engagement and accelerator programs.

Fixmer-Oraiz said next steps include presenting the findings to other local governments in the county and going back to see where the recommendations fit with their funding priorities.

“No one wants a plan to sit on the shelf, and this plan is very important,” Fixmer-Oraiz said.

Comprehensive economic development plan in newspaper online by Scribd

About the study

Astig Planning wanted to make barriers and resources clearer for “underrepresented community members” interested in owning or starting a business in the county.

Underrepresented community members include Black, Latino, Asian American, immigrant and formerly incarcerated individuals, and others who are historically underrepresented.

“This plan is mostly research,” he says. “When our business community sought to understand the needs of our undervalued businesses, there was a lack of data collection and insights to help measure and take action.”

The effort was led by Astig Planning, along with Greene State Credit Union, the Iowa City Area Development Group, the Iowa City Area Business Partnership and the Iowa Center for Multicultural Development, among other groups.

A total of 105 individuals responded to the survey, Fixmer-Oraiz. Of these, 63 are existing business owners, 17 are emerging business owners, and 24 are business support institutions.

Among the respondents, 25 different races were identified and 29 ethnic groups were identified, Fixmer-Oraiz said.

“You just don’t see such strong identification. And as we know, it’s important,” said Fixmer-Oraiz. “The people who appeared in this process were incredibly important to us.”

Comments: (319) 339-3155; izabela.zaluska@thegazette.com

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