DMC plans to use public infrastructure funds to support small businesses

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Destination medical center officials are exploring ways to get more public funding into the hands of downtown small business owners.

What is dubbed the Small Project Investment Strategy comes with a recognition that the current process for applying for public infrastructure finance – first adopted in 2015 – is “in many ways flawed. in favor of larger and more sophisticated developers ”.

The goal, according to DMC EDA staff, is to overhaul this process to make financing more accessible and equitable, especially for small business owners, new entrepreneurs and underserved populations.

“We know that our capital has been accessed through large projects and through city infrastructure projects, but that same capital could be available to small business owners,” said Chris Schad, director of business development at DMC. , at the conference on Thursday. DMC Corporation Board of Directors Meeting.

Since DMC’s inception, public funding has been used extensively to launch large developments such as hotels and the Discovery Square campus, as well as public projects such as road and sewer reconstruction.

While this strategy has led to some big wins, DMC executives said the cumbersome process has created hurdles, especially for businesses that don’t have access to the same resources as large corporations.

“You shouldn’t need a professional grants writer on your staff or expansive development staff to pursue an investigation of how your business entity can help us promote our vision,” said Pamela Wheelock, member of the board of directors of DMCC, in support of the update. the process.

The strategy discussed on Thursday would not change how public infrastructure funds can be used – state law restricts the use to things like acquiring property and renovating buildings. (DMC infrastructure funds cannot be used to cover regular operating costs.) Instead, it would change the way funds can be accessed. It would also serve as a statement of DMC’s intention to interpret infrastructure as more than roads and bridges.

“Small business is one piece of the infrastructure to make it a destination, and the infrastructure in this case includes roads – but it also includes a unique business that is something attractive to other people that creates great things. money in the local economy, ”said Chairman of the Board RT Rybak.

With the details of the process still being worked out, other board members offered additional considerations to support downtown businesses.

City Council President Brooke Carlson suggested that funds be available for landowners to be urged to adhere to historic preservation guidelines – a use DMC officials have agreed to could meet the definition of public infrastructure. .

“Speaking with some of them, I think there is a lot of desire” to make improvements, said Carlson, also a member of the DMCC board. “But the challenges are the resources to follow these guidelines.”

Board member Paul Williams said he supports the spirit of the plan, although he noted that any strategy should be paired with technical support, mentorship and other means to access. to funds that go beyond the building itself.

“Most often what I hear from small businesses is, ‘I really need some equipment and I need something that might still be a physical part of the business, but not not so much about the building, ”said Williams, citing his experiences working in the Twin Cities.

The conversation around small business strategy will continue next month with city council before returning to the DMCC board in November.

Sean Baker is a Rochester reporter and the founder of Med City Beat.


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