The State of Small Business in the Nation's Capital and Across the Country

The Credit Junction had the pleasure of interviewing Ana Harvey, the Director of theDepartment of Small and Local Business Development in Washington, DC. See her thoughts on the state of small business locally and nationally, below.

How would you describe the small business landscape in DC today? 

The District of Columbia, the Nation’s capital, draws small businesses at a much higher rate than many other cities. There are currently about 60,000 small businesses in the District, a city with a population of 300,000. Still, there is more to do. My goal is to foster an ecosystem that will further attract, retain, and help the growth of small businesses in DC.

What role does the DSLBD play in supporting small businesses? 

The DC Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) is the go-to resource for small businesses in the District. We provide business owners direct assistance and targeted programs for every phase of the business lifecycle. We do this with a three-pronged approach. The first is counseling. If you want to start a business, or a already have a business and want to grow, we provide counseling to guide you through the process of running your small business effectively and profitably. The second key is capital. Across the nation, a leading obstacle for small business growth is lack of access to capital. At DSLBD, we want to make sure we provide adequate access to various lending, grant, and bonding programs for DC small businesses to have the capital that they need to thrive. The third key is contracts. We support DC small businesses to make sure they are well equipped to successfully compete for local, regional and global opportunities. DSLBD has placed priority on the District of Columbia exceeding the $317 million it pledged to spend with small businesses this year by facilitating the issuing of contract set aside specifically for small businesses.

What do you think is the biggest threat to the success of small businesses today?  

The biggest threat to the success of small businesses is not planning ahead. We need to make sure that business owners have time to run their businesses, while looking to the future and strategically planning short-term and long-term goals.  Access to capital and funding are instrumental to the successes of small businesses, and securing financing often requires advance planning.

Another threat is a dire need to improve the regulatory burden on small businesses. Government agencies must better coordinate their regulations to streamline processes, minimize confusion and reduce time demands on small businesses.

How do you feel that alternative lenders can play a role in responding to the needs of small businesses? 

Small business owners should have as many options as possible. All small businesses don’t have the same needs – they are all very different and are in different developmental stages. So, I would never rule out any option ranging from banks, to micro-lenders, to alternative lenders. It is important, as a small business owner, to do your research to make sure that you choose the best option available to you. Alternative lending plays an important role among these options when the traditional banks can’t meet your needs.

What is an exciting innovation that you have seen in the small business field today? 

Small businesses are coming up with incredibly innovative solutions to many problems across the country today. Take Uber for example – it started as a small business looking to fill a gap in the transportation industry, and did so quite well. Small businesses can provide answers to the biggest problems that society faces. I am very excited to see what’s next!

What is one piece of advice that you would give a small business that is seeking to expand?

Manage growth. It is great that entrepreneurs are ambitious and want to expand, but they must make sure that they can manage their growth. Ambition must be supported by thought. Plan ahead to avoid being in a worse situation!

Where do you see the state of small businesses 5 years from now? 

In DC, I see them thriving. There is plenty of money to be made here. I see them playing a larger role and having a seat at the table in helping the city prosper. I believe that within 3 years small businesses will undeniably be one of the pillars of the local economy.

Do you have any last words for small business owners out there?

If you have an innovative idea, use the resources and the network around you, by means of an emerging market like the District of Columbia, to catapult your success.