August 2020: "The economy is right here. It's our relationships. It’s our actions. Every transaction makes an impact and influences the kind of economy we have."
Seattle Good Business Network connects and inspires people to buy, produce, and invest locally, so that everyone has a meaningful stake in the local economy.
Their programming includes Seattle Made, the Local Food Economy, Seattle Restaurant Week, Northwest Sewn, Community Capital, Sustainability & Circular Economy, and so much more!
Interview with Erin Adams, Executive Director at Seattle Good Business Network
I didn’t even need to ask a question to get Erin started. We were sharing reflections on parenting in a pandemic world when she naturally progressed to reflecting on what all of this actually means for our economy….not Wall Street….but the lived experiences and realities of the people and small businesses that make up much of the economy of our city.
Like probably everyone else, I don't see how this ends. I don't see how - in the place we’re at now and the way that it’s being managed and coordinated at a national level - I just don't see how it ends. And that stresses me out.
Yes, it's a place where innovation can be sparked and where new models can be developed. In fact, some of these transitional models will become the permanent models: some restaurants will never return to enhanced dining; some restaurants have permanently added lines of business that the community is going to need over the long term. They never considered that they would become food pantries or shift to prepare meals for seniors or health care workers. It's great to stay in that space of possibility and innovation.
But it's also hard to see the incredible fallout from the prolonged shutdown, especially considering the lack of a social safety net. I have nothing to add that's original about wealth inequality, the gutting of social services over the years, and our ongoing failure to adequately and fairly value people's labor. But, as someone who runs a nonprofit dedicated to local economic development, that’s in its tenth year, I do know that, in order to build an economy that is truly sustainable and that represents the needs of all involved, it really requires strong institutional support. We need consistent and reliable governmental partnerships – and we for sure have good and productive relationships with some of our local government agencies – but for whatever reason, and I get there are many competing demands on the budget, the funds available in Seattle are just wildly inadequate for the size of the need.
If we were on a level playing field - if the resources given to community economic development organizations were scaled to support the potential of our industry as they are for the traditional economic development that draws and incentivizes large businesses, we would have a transformed local economy in terms of inclusive economic opportunity and the shared prosperity we all want to see.
As progressive as we are in Seattle, we still suffer from the same market forces that result in the big getting bigger and those working from the bottom up struggling for adequate resources. And I know that doesn’t reflect our values as a city and it’s not what any of us want to see. But the whole ecosystem needs more broad-based support, especially if we are going to redress and support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) businesses and initiatives led by communities of color.
You have a lot of programs in place to support small businesses and economic development. But, that’s not necessarily where your organization started. When and why did you launch?
The organization was founded in 2010 and I joined very soon thereafter. My former co-director, Christine Hanna, and I came together as she was planning the launch of the network. We were exploring sustainability and zero waste events to celebrate the launch, but were having trouble finding funding. But I’d had an idea for an event rolling around in my head for some time, and Christine I agreed to partner on what ended up as Women on a Mission, where we brought together a room of over 100 women who were working on and in sustainable business, to talk about how to fulfill their mission personally and professionally; how to make a profit and create something meaningful while holding true to your ethical and your sustainable environmental values.
We really knocked it out of the park - it was a great event. That was what brought us together. While originally a local network of sustainable businesses, Christine had shifted the organization’s focus to the Think Local Seattle Campaign, designed to raise public awareness about how much more money stays in circulation in the local economy, and how much more income, wealth and jobs are created, when money is spent with local independent business versus national chains. That felt like what the community needed.
Like every good non-profit, you’ve got a big line up of programs. Before COVID, where did you see your real potential for impact and change and has it changed since March?
In January, we were getting ready to celebrate our 10th year. And we had a few initiatives that we were really excited about – they were really the culmination of the groundwork that we had laid through our Seattle Made effort, which launched in 2015 and now has over 600 folks who manufacture or produce a physical product within Seattle city limits. It’s the only program we do that draws a city boundary. And we do that because we don't want the city to be too expensive for folks to make things here. So, through that program, they can share resources, infrastructure, space and so forth. Some of the efforts that have come out of Seattle Made were really going to be major initiatives of our ours this year.
Apprenticeship Program in Sewing: We had received approval for the first registered apprenticeship in Washington State in industrial sewing machine operating. We had done years of work trying to understand the sewn trades ecosystem locally, where the gaps and opportunities were, how to train and employ more skilled sewing professionals in an ethical and transparent way. But the apprenticeship program that was to launch in spring was put on hold.
And we found ourselves triaging all kinds of supply chain questions, material questions, manufacturing questions about where to get PPE and masks locally. So, we had a busy few weeks there, trying to manage that, while setting up a mask marketplace.
Good Food Forum We received funding this year from the King Conservation District to connect King County and King County serving farms to market opportunities with our Seattle restaurants and Seattle Made members. Approximately 40% of the Seattle Made membership are food and beverage producers, so we've been digging into understanding what local infrastructure is needed to incubate and accelerate food businesses. We also run Seattle Restaurant Week, which is of course another big story of COVID disruption, and big part of our local food landscape. The KCD funding has supported the launch of the Good Food Forum, which is an online community & hub that connect all the different parts of the food economy. That has become big - we just released a map of all the restaurants that have food pantries or meals to go, as well as restaurants that have pivoted their model. I believe this work will continue to deepen as a result of COVID.
Youth Program. We support internships for underrepresented youth, to help connect them to meaningful learning, career, and leadership opportunities in urban manufacturing. This summer we’re piloting an internship program that not only the interns, but also pays the businesses a stipend to help mentor the youth, and covers some of our time. I feel like it's a huge breakthrough and we are grateful to the Workforce Development Council of Seattle and King Co for their support of this more equitable model.
Circular Economy Initiative. We had received some seed funding from the Port of Seattle for a circular economy initiative and launch of a materials marketplace, because we have a lot of members who are trying to source materials that might otherwise be destined for the landfill, in order to create their products. This is something that is just getting started and we’re very excited about its potential to support a more regenerative economy.
And how did your work shift?
The first program that was affected by COVID was Restaurant Week. That was a big financial hit and shock for everyone and the first thing we did was to make an immediate pivot to promote restaurants during that early period of uncertainty: within a few days, we put up pages that helped customers understand what was happening in the restaurant industry: who was doing takeout, who was doing delivery. We also hustled like crazy, trying to figure out how to get funding to support the restaurant industry and small businesses in general. That has since grown into a full-blown support hub - it really became its own program area that offers relief resources, a marketplace, takeout delivery, promotions for black owned businesses and sustainable business resources.
We’ve also been working to the best of our capacity to our business members. Their revenue is down 30, 50, 90% And, I think we’ve all realized, this isn’t going away anytime soon. They need our help. We’ve tried to help them navigate this new landscape; we’ve tried to drive marketing and market opportunities for them; we’ve worked to get our members’ products into various delivery boxes; and we created our own Seattle Made dinners, whatever we can do.
But, what they really need is more business, more funding, and they need relief.
What else do you want to share?
Everyone is trying to raise money right now and, for a small team like ours, that takes a lot of time and effort. But, our program work is more important than ever, not just to help us help our community through this challenging period but to help rebuild when we come out of this. Selfishly, I’d love more space to build on our programing that truly contributes to a resilient, locally owned economy, rather than what feels like an unending triage of immediate need, but I guess many of us are feeling the same way during this pandemic.
And, we need everyone to maintain a sense of importance and urgency in supporting the local economy. This isn’t going away and we cannot forget about our local businesses. I’d like people to think what their neighborhoods and the city would be like if their favorite businesses were gone, if more got boarded up or turned into strip malls. I know this may not be a popular sentiment but I do believe we need to right size our economy and right size our consumption. We need to buy less, buy better, and buy local whenever we can.
The economy touches everything and everybody. It's not some abstract thing out there, happening on Wall Street. The economy is right here. It's our relationships. It’s our actions. Every transaction makes an impact and influences the kind of economy we have.
And, we all need to take a look at our choices and ask ourselves, what do I want my neighborhood to look like and be like on the other side of this?
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