(This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)
Are you taking advantage of the many ways the city of Philadelphia can help your small business? If you’re like many of my clients, probably not. Let me help with these five suggestions.
The city’s Department of Commerce can serve as a customer service and training resource.
The city’s Office of Business Services, which is run by the Department of Commerce, is designed to be a destination for business owners of all sizes to get answers to their problems — from zoning to permits to selling products and services to city departments. There is also training and one-on-one consultation sessions offered to help decide on your best business structure as well as providing advice on financing, legal, employment and other workplace matters. In addition, the department makes available specialized business coaches to help businesses in low-to-moderate income areas address the needs that are particular to them.
NazAarah Sabree, a senior director for the Department of Commerce’s Office of Business Services says that her department serves as the liaison between the business community and the city, and helps with everything from identifying the licenses and permits a business needs to troubleshooting any issues with city services.
“I like to call us the one-stop shop for businesses,” she said. “We can essentially act as a concierge service for your company, regardless of size.”
The city provides multiple financing opportunities.
Consultants from Sabree’s department assist small business owners obtain loans through the Philadelphia Business Lending Network, a consortium of banks and other financial services organizations that lend money to small businesses located in the city using a standardized loan application that only needs to be completed once and submitted to the network. There is also a partnership with Kiva, a crowdfunding site which provides interest free loans for buying inventory, investing in equipment, expanding product lines, and hiring staff as well as marketing and advertising.
In addition to these resources, the city provides an InStore Forgivable Loan Program, which offers $15,000 to $50,000 no-payment, no-interest loans that are potentially forgivable for retail, food, and some arts businesses that are located on “eligible corridors” and used for expansion. If the business remains open and operating at the location for five years, the loan is forgiven.
You can get help with hiring.
The city’s Fair Chance Hiring Initiative helps local businesses that generate less than $5 million in annual revenue to hire an employee who has returned from incarceration within the last seven years. In return, eligible employers can get up to $6.00 per hour wage reimbursement for up to 960 hours, a one-time $500 employment retention grant per employee, and other resources to help support these qualifying employees during the new hire period.
The city also has a myriad of tax credits available for employers who increase jobs, open up in a Keystone Opportunity Zone, or provide health benefits to Life Partner & Transgender workers. Tax credits are also available to businesses who hire a returning veteran or continues to compensate active duty soldiers.
Startups are able to get special assistance.
New businesses in the city can get specialized information and personalized help for obtaining a business income and receipts tax identification and for forms for paying business income and receipts, net profits, and wage taxes. If you’re an eligible new business (you must have at least three full-time employees who are not family members and who work in Philadelphia at least 60% of the time, among other requirements) the city also offers exemptions from many of its license fees and business taxes during the first two years of operations through its Jumpstart Philly program.
Your business can get help with security and sprucing up your storefront.
The city’s Business Security Camera Program will reimburse up to 50%(up to $3,000) of the cost of installing external cameras on commercial properties as long as the business registers with the police and allows for viewing of footage. According to Sabree, this is one of the her department’s most popular programs.
“Safety is one of the top concerns in the city and especially for business owners, right?” she said. “But unfortunately, many small business owners don’t have the money to pay for security systems. This program helps them and their neighborhoods.”
Making neighborhoods attractive is also a priority, which is why, in addition to the Business Security Camera Program, the city also offers grants of up to $10,000 toward a single commercial property via its Storefront Improvement Program. This money can be used by business to make improvements to their storefront, including masonry and brick pointing as well as painting, lighting and signage.
According to Sabree, her department is helping a lot of businesses, but there’s a lot more work to be done to get the word out. “They just need to know about us,” she said.