Making space for entrepreneurs in Lancaster

Courtney Rinden, ASSETS intern, references ASSETS and Lancaster City Alliance’s Cultivate Lancaster forum. View the original post on LNP here

In any community, there is space and place. Space is the physical environment we inhabit. Be it urban, suburban, or agrarian, space is about brick and mortar surroundings we find and build.

Place, on the other hand, is less tangible. Place is the sense of identity we take on from experiencing life within an environment. It’s the connection that grounds us as individuals.

These ideas can work in tandem. Without place, we have empty spaces, lifeless and cold. Without space, we have no context for understanding ourselves.

Together, space and place create the communities we live in, and luckily, Lancaster is considered by many to be one of the best around. But we are not there yet.

What does this mean for our community?

Recently, the Lancaster City Alliance and Assets hosted Cultivate Lancaster, an entrepreneur’s forum in partnership with local business owners as part of implementing the city’s new Economic Development Strategic Plan.

This event, held at the Candy Factory — a city-based co-working facility — was dedicated to the power of ideation and innovation in our own community.

Cultivate Lancaster brought physical space and ideological place to life in perfect unison.

The purpose of the event was to give people the physical space to think and receive inspiration, and a welcoming place where entrepreneurs had the opportunity to share, literally pitching their business ideas to a group of listeners while looking for ways to strengthen, grow or revise their ideas in response to local problems.

Of course, not every entrepreneurial idea shared in a setting like this will be successful, and not every idea is a good one worth investing in.

However, by creating a culture of support, and a collective sense of place shared by all — with tough love, appropriate challenges to ideas and even a critical or pragmatic viewpoint — this event proved that a shared vision for this community can come to the fore, building better entrepreneurial ideas through openness and collaboration.

Additionally, the event highlighted the story of local entrepreneur Vy Banh of Rice & Noodles, who was one of the speakers.

Fleeing from war-torn Vietnam, Banh’s family rebuilt a restaurant in New Orleans and was again displaced a decade ago after Hurricane Katrina. Banh and her family have rebuilt yet again in Lancaster and have grown a successful business, actively expanding and creating new jobs here.

Banh and her family exemplify the power of entrepreneurship and the fertile place and space of Lancaster to grow new business.

Her story also highlights the power and importance of immigrant-owned businesses, and the value that those seeking refuge in the United States bring.

The importance of entrepreneurs in a local economy can’t be overstated.

According to the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, businesses with fewer than five employees represent over 92 percent of all U.S, businesses.

Additionally, business ownership can be a significant path to economic opportunity: the median net worth of business owners is almost two-and-a-half times higher than non-business owners.

For a black woman, the difference is more than 10 times, while for a Latino man, it’s five times.

Lancaster City knows that entrepreneurs will be at the center of growing economic opportunity and strength.

We’ll continue to create places and spaces for ideas to blossom — across the city — with entrepreneurs and ideas from every quadrant.

Without connection to place, compassionate feedback, and the community support to help an idea come to life, an idea remains simply that, an idea.

Let’s create space, not because we want to hear good business ideas, but because we want to know the people behind those ideas, and the places they come from.

Business is more than the bottom line. Business is people. Business is community.

Courtney Rinden is an intern at Assets through the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement. She is senior American studies major at Franklin & Marshall College completing her honors thesis on “sense of place” as represented through Lancaster city marketing. She is from Orange County, California.

Outsourcing Lancaster County’s janitors sets a bad example of business

To view the original post on LNP, click here

Lancaster city is in the midst of an epidemic. Rates of Lancastrians living below the poverty line have risen 50 percent in the last decade. Our poverty rates are higher than those of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately, a recent decision by Lancaster County’s commissioners, to outsource cleaning services to a company that pays less and does not offer benefits, exemplifies and exacerbates the problem.

The cost-cutting move seems benign at first glance — budgets are tight so government officials find a cheaper way to get their offices cleaned. Businesses and families make similar decisions on where to spend money and how to save it; the government simply did the same thing.

Not so fast.

Before digging into the rationale for making this decision, let’s look at the jobs that are being outsourced.  According to information provided by the county, the five full-time custodial positions — prior to being outsourced effective Dec. 28 — had salaries ranging from $18,429 to $39,821, with three of them paying less than $21,000 per year. Federal guidelines consider a family of four with household income of less than $24,250 to be living in poverty.

The county commissioners’ decision will save money in the short-term, but what are the long-term effects on the citizens and budget of Lancaster County?  Most of the full-time and 19 part-time employees — if they are the sole breadwinners for their families — likely already qualified for some level of public assistance.  This means, given their new reduced salaries and benefits, that the government will need to provide even more assistance. By making these short-sighted decisions, the county has not only outsourced the contract, it has outsourced the responsibility to care for its own employees to a company paying lower salaries and benefits. This effectively forces local nonprofits and the public safety net to ensure that the children of these workers have enough food on the table and can access medical care when they need it.

This also highlights the implicit disconnect, often seen in the political and business arena, in opposing government-subsidized health care and other public services, while simultaneously making decisions that force more people to use those services in order to survive.

To add even more fuel to this fire, the decision was made to outsource the cleaning work to a non-local firm, meaning any profits to the company, which would result in increased tax income and spending at local businesses, immediately leave the area.

In the same way that government officials should consider all costs to their community when making budgetary decisions, business owners must do the same.  If business owners committed to paying wages which, at the very least, allowed employees to move off of public assistance, our community could be transformed.  For example, a recent study found that wages at Wal-Mart are subsidized to the tune of $6.2 billion by public assistance, or about $1 million per Supercenter.  Wal-Mart disputes the accuracy of these numbers, but the reality remains that companies are passing the responsibility of caring for their employees to the government, costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

Lancaster recently raised more than $6.1 million in the Extraordinary Give.  This is an amazing show of generosity, but that is money spent to fill in the gaps where the private sector has failed.  Free market capitalists argue that the only social responsibility of business is to increase profits so long as they stay “within the rules of the game” (avoiding fraud or deception). I would argue that this doesn’t take into consideration the full scope of the game — and the very real costs that each individual and corporate tax-paying entity bears as a member of society. Looking at the true costs of the game and considering how they can be reduced through business is just good business, and ultimately improves our collective and individual bottom lines.

Businesses, governments, and non-profits alike should have a moral responsibility to consider a more complex bottom line.  At ASSETS, we work with entrepreneurs every day and fully understand that making a business profitable is hard work.  Ensuring that a business stays in the black requires tough decisions and often some belt-tightening.  However, in advising our clients, we continually encourage them to count all costs — to people, to the planet, and to profit — when making decisions. A thriving community produces thriving businesses.  Leaders of all types must consider this reality and make decisions accordingly.

Jonathan Coleman is director of programs for ASSETS, a Lancaster-based nonprofit that works to create economic opportunity and cultivate entrepreneurial leadership in order to alleviate poverty and build vibrant, sustainable communities. Jessica King, ASSETS’ executive director, contributed to this column.