Photo caption: From left to right: Cara Bertron, Lissa Eng and Quang H. Nguyen of Seattle Chinatown/ID Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), who are lobbying for $500,000 to support a new business model in Chinatown-International District. Photo credit: Nancy Siu.

As part of a new business incubator initiative, vthe Seattle Chinatown/ID Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) is currently seeking $500,000 from the State Capital Budget, to support local businesses in the Chinatown-International District (CID).

“Currently, we don’t have anything like that,” said Nguyen. “It’s going to bring in a whole new type of industry to the neighborhood that’s complimentary to the existing businesses and it’s going to bring in new customers.”

Seattle’s CID is currently home to about 450 small businesses and has served as an economic ladder for entrepreneurial new immigrants and longtime citizens for more than a century, noted Quang Nguyen, Sr. Economic Development Specialist at SCIDpda, adding that it is becoming more and more difficult to start and sustain a small business in the neighborhood — and the entire Seattle area. Rising rents and equipment costs are pricing out many potential entrepreneurs, thus weakening the backbone of the economy. Nguyen and his team at the SCIDpda have been talking to legislators, including Sen. Adam Kline D-Seattle, in an effort to pass the incubator initiative, which proposes assistance for small businesses to exist, despite escalating costs, and gives them a fighting chance to stand on their own.

Its mission is to preserve the cultural fabric of the neighborhood and keep the neighborhood alive. According to Nguyen, it consists of three components. The first is incubating businesses in the graphic, architecture or landscape architecture design industry to grow through the Design INC project. It would serve 15 to 20 businesses a year to support the development of services and finding their market niche. The second component would include providing a co-working space, where office workers could come and go, through a membership, and use amenities such as computers, printers and high speed internet – keeping major expenses such as rent and equipment relatively low. The last component would be the development of a business counseling center to connect small start-ups or existing businesses to consultants, training and other business improvement resources, including planning and marketing.

“We’re hoping to create 50 jobs in the first year, as well as serve at least 80 neighborhood businesses annually,” said Nguyen.

The project also aims to serve 30 to 45 micro-entrepreneurs and independent contractors each year, and create approximately 50 jobs in year one through growth of incubator businesses. By investing in this project, notes Nguyen, Washington’s taxpayers will support the creation of new businesses and jobs, as well as help to strengthen existing businesses.

The $500,000 initiative would begin at the Bush Asia Center building, where SCIDpda hopes to develop close to a 4,000-square-foot shared office space. This is part of a larger rehabilitation effort of the building by SCIDpda, which began in 2008. During the first phase of construction, noted Nguyen, approximately 9,600 square feet of office space and 3,300 square feet of community spaces were built-out with electricity, heating and plumbing. This allowed the Bush Asia Center to house a community hall with kitchen, senior activity center, two community-based nonprofits, and SCIDpda’s main office. Significant weatherization to improve energy efficiency was also part of the cost.

The rehabilitation includes upgrades to the building’s electrical, heating, and plumbing systems. A fully built-out scenario for the Bush Asia Center building is estimated to cost a total of about $6.5 million (including capital costs from the first phase). This figure includes the build-out of additional raw shell spaces in the building, which are not part of the incubator/co-working space. Depending on availability of funding, construction could start as soon as winter 2014.

In addition to the new business incubator initiative, Nguyen noted that the SCIDpda also recently received a $10,000 grant from the Washington State Microenterprise Association, in addition to a $15,000 grant from Cathay Bank, to develop a business technical assistance program for start-up businesses in the CID. The program will offer workshops on marketing, business planning and management, as well as one-on-one business assistance planning, to help neighborhood businesses become more profitable and competitive in the market place. SCIDpda is currently partnering with different agencies and institutions in the city, including the business schools at Seattle University and the University of Washington and Greater Seattle SCORE, which offers free and low-cost business counseling and workshops.

“Seattle has very distinct neighborhoods. Each has its own character because of the small businesses,” said Nguyen. “If it becomes too expensive for small businesses to start and continue, we will end up with large chains like Subway and McDonalds, and end up becoming a suburban strip mall.”

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