By Marc Lutz
Business Journal Editor
STOCKTON – Veteran and rookie small business owners gathered for Mayor Michael Tubbs’ first round table to tackle the issues affecting their businesses.
Owners and civic leaders met with the mayor on July 6 at City Hall to discuss what can be done to bolster business in Stockton, a city sometimes plagued with a tarnished image, despite how locals feel about it.
The summit was co-sponsored by the California Small Business Association.
“You can set the precedent for us doing this at other parts in the state of California,” said Betty Jo Toccoli, President and Advocate at CSBA. “We believe that (making changes) in the local office is where you can have the most impact. I would ask you to voice what’s wrong, but you also have to come up with a solution.”
The CSBA works with 93 out of the state’s 120 legislators to positively impact California’s small businesses.
Issues that many in attendance were concerned with ranged from problems with homeless, the cost of doing business under an increased minimum wage and finding funding for services.
“We have an incubator, and we’re getting ready to launch a mentor program for entrepreneurs,” said Paulette Gross, CEO with the African American Chamber Foundation in Stockton. “I have four new business just launched, and the problem is finding working capital.”
Gross’ program works with new business owners in filling out the proper forms for license and taxes, along with hunting down funding.
Most at the round table voiced concerns about the $15 minimum wage increase, stating it would be a burden and would make it difficult to keep costs down, as well as train new talent.
“The minimum wage requirements that are going up make it difficult for small businesses difficult to hire entry-level people,” said Ann Johnston, former mayor and owner of The Balloonery in Stockton. “Where do young people get the entree into the business world? They have to start somewhere. So when you eliminate that, and ultimately every job starts at $15 an hour, it makes it very, very difficult for small business.”
Bill Kane, owner of KANE GeoTech, Inc., echoed that sentiment.
“This is the first year we have not hired a young person,” Kane said. “For 20 years, my policy was to hire any young person who walked in the door. We would give them a chance. This year we’ve hired no one because the minimum wage has gone up so high that I don’t want to take a chance at $15 an hour – or even $11 an hour – on some 18-year-old that would love to have the experience.”
One solution offered by Kane was an internship or training wage.
Toccoli said the CSBA was working with legislators to create amendments to the minimum wage law, such as a student exemption amendment or, as Kane suggested, intern and training wages.
Business owners who are located in areas that are impacted by the homeless were seeking solutions for that problem as well. Mayor Tubbs said different programs were being looked at to get more people off the street such as more affordable housing.
Tubbs said his office was working on several items that would help make Stockton more attractive, and could help small business to operate. Chief among those items were violent crime prevention, programs to prepare people for the workforce and focusing on the general plan.
Toccoli said there are several definitions of small business throughout the state which can impact funding and job growth.
“You might go with the Department of Human Services’ (definition of small business) that’s under 100 employees and $50 million,” Toccoli said. “There’s a move to try and change the definition … at the state level to under 20 employees and under $2.5 million gross revenues. That worries me because $2.5 million wouldn’t be creating new jobs. You wouldn’t even have five employees. And creating jobs has got to be at the top of the list.”
Follow-up round table discussions will be held on a quarterly basis to keep communication flowing between small business and city governance.
“Folks like you make our city strong,” Tubbs said.