Windsor is rolling out the red carpet for small business owners, providing them with a personal assistant of sorts at Town Hall.
In an attempt to help local entrepreneurs and fledgling business owners get off the ground, the town recently created a "business concierge service," not only to navigate the government approval process, but help them learn about the market for their product or service, develop a business plan, and even assist with loan applications.
"We're eager to get some quality business here and hoping this can help them," said Windsor Economic Development Manager and Senior Planner Kevin Thompson, who is the newly designated "concierge."
Thompson, who this year earned his master's in business administration from Sonoma State University, got the idea for the concierge service on a trip his international economics class took to Malaysia and Singapore last year.
"The theme kept coming up: how the nation-state of Singapore was so business friendly," he said.
Thompson said he heard business people say " 'one person got me through the whole thing. I didn't have to call around and I wasn't shuffled.' "
The idea for a concierge, a sort of internal advocate at Windsor Town Hall for small businesses, emerged from a brainstorming session when staff members were assessing their economic development programs.
"We were taking stock of our post-redevelopment world we live in and what steps we could take to assist business with any hurdles they face, absent redevelopment funding and any economic stimulus," said City Manager Linda Kelly.
She described the concierge concept as "a little more hand-holding for small business."
Kelly noted that small businesses have a high failure rate "so whatever we can do to make them successful at the outset, or long-term" is helpful.
She said big business and major developers have consultants that know how the system works. But for a small business person getting started, it can be intimidating and daunting.
"People are putting their dreams on the line. It's a lot of money when you're opening a business," she said, adding that it makes it less onerous if the process is "welcoming and understandable."
Windsor is not the first municipality to come up with the idea of a complimentary service to help businesses find their way through the permit and regulatory process, and steer them toward grants and other opportunities.
The Town of Danville in the East Bay also offers a similar "business concierge" consisting of a "one-on-one consultation with new and existing businesses."
In Windsor, Thompson is the face of a "one-stop shop for personalized advice and business tools."
He offers to "come to you and learn about your business," provide the owner with demographic data to enhance the business plan and loan applications; and review their business plans and proposals.
Thompson said he can produce a customized market analysis for a prospective business with demographic data derived in partnership with the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.
It might shed light, for example, on the average income, age, family make-up and other characteristics of residents within a two-mile radius of the new business.
Thompson also will assist in locating commercial property; bring planning, building and engineering teams together to assess property improvement needs; identify needed permits; and help business owners fill out the applications.