By Delcenia Cosman • September 20, 2023
The Homer City Council will hold a public hearing at its next meeting on Sept. 25 before deciding whether to partially fund the local small business adviser position.
Ordinance 23-50 would appropriate $10,000 from the unassigned fund balance of the city’s general fund to partially support the Homer business adviser in connection to the Alaska Small Business Development Center through the current fiscal year.
The Homer adviser was established as a part-time position in 2020, thanks to funding received by AKSBDC through the CARES Act, to better support roughly 1,900 small businesses in the Homer area, as well as individuals seeking assistance in their business endeavours. While AKSBDC has offices statewide, its main center for the Kenai Peninsula is located in Soldotna, with one other advising office located in Seward.
“Since June 25, 2020, I’ve seen remarkable progress as the local adviser,” said current AKSBDC Homer adviser Robert Green during the public comment period in the Sept. 11 meeting. “I have 1,955 counseling sessions. 119 of those are new businesses. It’s clear that this position is having a tangible impact on our community.”
Kenai Peninsula Center director Cliff Cochran provided context to the council regarding the high community need for the AKSBDC, both in Homer and in the greater Kenai Peninsula.
“Our organization will be the same regardless of (the) vote, but losing the Homer business adviser position would be a considerable loss to the Homer community,” Cochran said. “The reason we’re pushing this is that if the Homer position goes away, we are unable to meet the demand from entrepreneurs in the Homer community.
“Homer business adviser Robert Green, in just a part-time role, provides 650 hours of advising per year. If this position goes away, I’m only able to provide roughly 180 hours to Homer clients from Soldotna, as was the case in 2019. That’s a gap of nearly 500 hours that entrepreneurs in Homer would miss out on.”
AKSBDC provides essential services to existing and prospective business owners through “no-cost, confidential, individual business coaching to grow small businesses,” the ordinance states. The Homer office’s establishment also follows city economic development policy, as shown in the 2018 comprehensive plan which states, according to the ordinance, that the city of Homer should “encourage the retention and creation of more year-round, higher-wage jobs.”
“Small business owners often possess the technical skills needed for their trade, but may require assistance with the intricacies of running a successful business,” Green said. “The Homer business adviser position offers this vital support, helping businesses thrive and contributing to the vibrancy of our local economy.”
When the CARES Act funding that initially established the Homer adviser position expired, Cochran said, the city of Homer did provide partial funding in 2022 and 2023. However, according to a Sept. 2 memorandum to the council from economic development manager Julie Engebretsen, as part of the fiscal year 2024/2025 budget process, city council voted down a $15,000 annual request to fund the Homer AKSBDC position. The position was able to remain available due to the Kenai Peninsula Borough increasing funding to AKSBDC as a whole, which “helped to close the budget gap for this position,” the memo says.
Ordinance 23-50 comes out of a request from AKSBDC for a local match “to fund the remainder of this part-time position through FY24.”
“Ordinance 23-50 keeps a Homer business adviser position funded in 2024. If funding is not secured, the Homer business adviser position will, unfortunately, go away,” Cochran said.
The ordinance was introduced at the Sept. 11 regular council meeting. Several community members, including Robert Green, spoke in “wholehearted support” of the ordinance.
“Businesses are the backbone of our local economy, providing us with essential services,” Green said to the council. “By supporting this ordinance, you are saying yes to our local businesses, affirming your commitment to their growth and prosperity.”
Brad Anderson, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce, which provided an office base for AKSBDC Homer, also noted that not only do businesses benefit from AKSBDC’s services, but so does the local economy.
“Here, at the local level, we are the biggest beneficiaries of what this job does and the support it gives to folks, because in helping new and existing businesses thrive, the sales tax they generate and the jobs created are really vital to our local economy,” he said.
Heath Smith, city resident and candidate for Homer’s seat in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, called the local match a “direct investment in the community.”
Council member Caroline Venuti, who co-sponsored the ordinance with council member Shelly Erickson, moved to introduce Ordinance 23-50.
“I want to thank the people who came today to testify, and the letters that we received in our packet,” she said. “The word that I was lacking was said by Heath — he called this an investment. That’s exactly what it is, it’s an investment in our community. This is a way that we can actually support (small businesses).”
Ordinance 23-50 and the full audio for the Sept. 11 regular meeting is available online at https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/citycouncil/city-council-regular-meeting-300.
The next regular city council meeting will take place in the Cowles Council Chambers at City Hall on Monday, Sept. 25 at 6 p.m.