Public Affairs, Communications & Sustainable Development

The Power of Association

June 06, 2013 at 2:24 PM

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Case Study: Near Westside Initiative Business Association (NWSIBA)

In the poorest neighborhood of Syracuse, New York – the Near Westside – our founder worked with a local nonprofit development organization (NWSI) to explore, implement, and grow an innovative small business association as a component of a much larger community revitalization effort.

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The Near Westside Business Association was formed in response to recommendations made by the SALT District Business Survey, a comprehensive study commissioned by the Near Westside Initiative in 2009 to assess the needs of the local business community. The study identified the need for a cohesive group to help unify neighborhood businesses owners and entrepreneurs to better serve the needs of both individual businesses as well as the collective business community.

Reflecting on the successful launch of the Near Westside Business Association in particular, we identify 4 Key Benefits of Engaging Small Businesses & Entrepreneurs in Community Revitalization:

  • Building on Existing Community Assets + Leveraging Opportunities for Growth
  • Networking + Community Building
  • Advocacy 
  • Avenue for Participation + Involvement in Process
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Building on Community Assets + Leveraging Opportunities for Growth

Understanding the importance of an asset-based development strategy to build wealth within this challenged neighborhood, NWSI’s Small Business Development Committee launched an array of comprehensive initiatives in June 2010 aimed at boosting growth and encouraging new business development. The initiatives included a business and entrepreneurial development program, a business peer mentoring program, a microloan program, and the formation of a business association. These efforts resulted from recommendations made by the SALT District Business Study, which identified and existing 140 businesses in the Near Westside neighborhood.

The SALT District Business Study also found that neighborhood small businesses and entrepreneurs are more likely to hire neighborhood residents when they expand. Therefore, the expansion of these businesses will mean more jobs for those living within this impoverished community. Uplifting neighborhood businesses will also serve to develop the work force and foster organic wealth creation.

The association is also now allowing the business community to engage in cross promotion and joint advertising, as well as provide a forum where strategic partnerships can be nurtured and community resources shared.

Networking & Community Building

After just three meetings, the NWS Business Association had an active membership of over 15 businesses and entrepreneurs, arranged for discount health insurance for neighborhood businesses, started collaborating with 45 communications students from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School to help promote their business interests, and effectively worked with the Syracuse Police Department to address criminal activity negatively impacting one of its members. Members were also communicating more frequently, discussing aggregated services, and leveraging each other’s resources and skills. By the association’s sixth meeting, the group’s membership had ballooned to over 60 active participants.

Members quickly got to work on the association’s governance structure and deciding what projects to pursue in the neighborhood. The association also formed a partnership with SyracuseFirst, a nonprofit network of locally owned independent businesses, organizations and citizens dedicated to educating the public and government about the significant environmental, economic and cultural benefits of a strong local economy. The partnership allows the association members to access the array of services offered by SyracuseFirst, in addition to creating many opportunities for collaboration and coordinated efforts.

An example of benefits experienced can be seen in the participation of a young entrepreneur, Whitney Daniels, who joined the Near Westside Initiative Business Association at its inception:

A year and a half after Daniels graduated from Syracuse University in 2009 with a degree in communications design, she paid the $32 fee to register a new business at the Onondaga County Clerk’s office: WRKDesigns.

She also joined the Near Westside Initiative Business Association. The group gave her the opportunity to redesign its logo and network with other small businesses, and she’s still building her client list. As the group’s resident designer, she has picked up small jobs for business logos and brochures and spread her name through word of mouth.

Advocacy

NWSI Business Association member John Gerros, of Jacobs Architectural Woodworking, has been a member since the group was formed. He experienced first hand the benefits of being part of the association. After noticing criminal activity taking place at a building adjacent to his business, Gerros went to the business association for assistance.

“The police visited us shortly after we brought our concerns to the business association meeting and set up a surveillance station on our second floor. That same day, they made at least one arrest and found a gun that was involved in a shooting the previous week,” he says. “Needless to say, we were impressed by the swift action of the business association and relieved that their assistance might slow the criminal activity in our midst. But even beyond that, our hopes for the NWSI have been greatly bolstered by our participation with the initiative’s business association.”

Avenue for Participation + Involvement In Process

In 2012, the Near Westside Initiative Business Association invited dozens of businesses and residents located along West Street to a presentation of proposed changes along the West Street arterial and gathered their input.

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West Street is a high-volume North-South corridor for West Side and South Side residents and commerce; it must function safely for all motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Proposed changes include reducing the number of car lanes on West Street and creating a 2-way cycle track with area businesses and residents. The benefits of which include increased green space and porous surfaces, more trees and shade, improved access into the neighborhoods for pedestrians and bicyclists, and a traffic calming effect that will slow traffic and make it easier to cross West Street.

The NWSI Business Association members and guests were able to provide feedback to the City on the details of the lane reduction, Otisco Street crosswalk and other infrastructural elements of the design. Suggested additions to the streetscape included more trees, a plaza, more on-street or off-street parking and wider sidewalks.

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