Looking to build lasting relationships between the city and local businesses, the Lynnwood City Council invited business owners to attend a round table discussion last week to get feedback on how the city can help support the business community.
Eight local business owners attended the discussion, where they received a list of questions to choose from to discuss with the council. Questions included a range of topics like the city’s business regulations, top concerns for business and how the city can diversify its business community.
“We are very interested in knowing what the city council can do — and what the city can do — to help the businesses in the area not just survive, but thrive in Lynnwood,” said Council President Ben Goodwin.
This is the second roundtable discussion the council has hosted this year seeking feedback from community stakeholders. The council previously held a discussion regarding affordable housing in the city.
Kicking off the discussion, some voiced their concerns about the city’s homeless population and how they sometimes make business owners uneasy. Talent Services owner Gunnvor Tveidt said she often finds homeless people sleeping under the deck near her office.
“They need a place to be, and I understand that, but it’s unsettling,” she said.
Bindi Yoga owner Susan Rennert agreed that the city’s homeless population has been a concern of hers. After opening her first yoga studio in 2011, Rennert said she felt secure in the area. However, since relocating her business, she said that the area she is now in often attracts homeless people.
“It has steadily gotten worse and worse,” she said.
Last summer, Rennert said her back parking lot became the location for a tent city with up to 20 people on the site. According to Rennert, the issue has started to concern her employees, who sometimes do not feel safe.
“I feel like we’re kind of going downhill (compared) to how I felt in 2011,” she said.
The roundtable discussion also gave business owners the chance to suggest ways to attract new businesses to the city. Phong Nguyen from Anna’s Home Furnishings suggested that the city offer perks for small businesses, such as accessibility to the Lynnwood Convention Center.
Nguyen pointed out that the cost to rent a small space at the convention center can be up to $700, which some owners can’t afford. He then proposed the convention center offer free spaces once a year to members of the Lynnwood Chamber of Commerce.
“Businesses here have resources that the city doesn’t have, and the city has resources that business owners want to use,” he said. “If we can get creative and create programs, we can share our resources.”
Experience Momentum owner Shanon Tysland praised the city’s community involvement with events like the Fair on 44th and the Celebrate Schools 5K Fun Run, and said the city should continue to offer community events.
“We need a sense of community in Lynnwood,” he said.
However, Tysland pointed out that the city’s process for issuing business permits could be improved. Tysland said he is currently expanding his business into another location in Lynnwood and the process is lasting months.
“What can we do to expedite this permitting process? It needs to happen,” he said.
Speaking to the previously stated concern about the city’s homeless, Tysland suggested the city and local business owners partner with local non-profit organizations to establish a mentorship program to help those in need.
During the discussion, Councilmember Shannon Sessions asked what business owners can do to help make the city more veteran friendly. In response, Marketplace Connections owner Jon Sween suggested partnering with veterans who want to start their own business. According to Sween, his business has helped veterans in the past and he suggested working with the Lynnwood Chamber of Commerce to offer classes on how to start a business.
When Councilmember Ruth Ross asked how many of the business owners had employees who commute to and from Lynnwood for work, the discussion turned to how to make the city a place people want to live. Tysland responded that many younger people prefer the “eclectic” life Seattle has to offer. He pointed out that Lynnwood does not currently have the variety of coffee shops, bars and nightlife options that Seattle does, and some people are willing to pay extra to have those options nearby.
“They love the Seattle vibe and community,” he said. “Hopefully the City Center (district) is going to be bringing…more vibrant opportunities for people to be involved.”
Additionally, Tysland said that Lynnwood’s cost of living is expensive compared to surrounding areas like south Everett, which is more appealing to young couples who are starting a family and prefer the suburbs to downtown Seattle.
When asked how he would make Lynnwood more attractive, Tysland said he believed the future City Center district — the city’s designated regional growth center that is planned to become a downtown hub area — would be a solution, if done correctly. He suggested the city look to other areas, like Fairhaven Historic District in Bellingham, for ideas.
“The City Center has huge potential,” he said.
However, City Center is years away from becoming a reality, and the city needs to solutions now, said Anytime Fitness owner Flex Velasco. He said the city should do more while waiting for City Center and suggested the city try to become more centralized. He pointed out that many of the businesses are spread out or not located near other businesses that could benefit each other.
“We need to attract pockets of businesses that integrate well together,” he said.
Additionally, when asked how businesses can reach more diverse markets, Velasco said social media is one of the best free ways to reach any demographic. According to Velasco, business owners can use social media to target customers based on gender, age and shared interests.
Recently, the city amended the city’s municipal codes regarding business licensing fees to meet state mandates. During the discussion, Councilmember George Hurst asked how the city could best address the impact of the city’s business fees on owners.
Nguyen responded by pointing out that last year, the United States Chamber of Commerce announced that for the first time in history, online sales surpassed sales made in a brick-and-mortar store. He said that as a result, small business owners are feeling pressure from sales tax that online entities don’t face.
“Times are changing, so I think the way that we’re getting taxed should also change,” he said.
Additionally, Nguyen suggested that the city should consider changing its fee structure to alleviate the pressure on Lynnwood’s small business owners. He pointed out that neighboring cities, like Edmonds, have a flat $125 business licensing fee.
Following the discussion, some suggested that the council continue to host meetings to keep the lines of communication open with local business owners.
“I’m grateful that the city is giving us a platform to have these two-way conversations,” Nguyen said. “I hope that the city continues to have these collaborations because it adds more opportunities to (help us) continue…to grow.”
–Story and photo by Cody Sexton