Businesses not sold on new help center

Although The City has recently expanded its small-business center with voter-approved funding, some entrepreneurs say they remain frustrated with how difficult it is to open up shop and make ends meet.

When Pet Camp owner Mike Klaiman volunteered to upgrade his pet-care businesses with additional fire-safety measures, it took several trips to City Hall — and plenty of money from his own wallet — to make it happen, he said.

In November, voters approved spending $750,000 to expand San Francisco’s Office of Small Business. It opened in a new office May 12 and has already seen 136 clients, according to director Brajah Norris.

In addition to walking clients through San Francisco’s complicated permitting process, the office is referring entrepreneurs to other business-support organizations, such as Urban Solutions, for aid.

Ninety-nine percent of businesses operating in San Francisco are small businesses — shops with fewer than 100 employees — according to Al Dixon, director of the San Francisco Small Business Development Center. They provide the majority of The City’s jobs, and contribute two and a half times the revenues to city coffers that large businesses do, he said.

However, business owners get little attention from City Hall and are faced with ever-increasing taxes and regulations, said Scott Hauge, president of California’s Small Business Association.

“It’s death by a thousand nicks,” Hauge said. “It would be terrific if The City could show, on a broad basis, that they appreciate small businesses.”

The Office of Small Business also will begin tracking clients to make sure their permits and loans are secured quickly — and follow them as they open their doors, Norris said.

Both Hauge and Klaiman said it’s too soon to tell whether City Hall will be able to make a dent in businesses’ frustrations.

“Things change in fits and starts, but I’m not sure the overall system is changing,” Klaiman said.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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