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The Podium

Next mayor needs to focus on Boston’s “missing middle’’

As our city careens into the final furious days of an historic mayoral campaign, the two men who would replace Mayor Thomas M. Menino need to get serious — and specific — about the real best way to grow and keep jobs here, particularly in our more economically-challenged neighborhoods.

Both City Councilor John Connolly and state Rep. Martin Walsh have done an outstanding job highlighting the city’s innovation economy and doing what we can to keep those highly-skilled graduates who leave our world-leading universities right here to grow their careers. They also spend a lot of time talking about neighborhood business, development and the future of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

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But the real focus needs to be on the often ignored “missing middle” of established businesses which have, by even conservative estimates and statistics, the greatest potential to grow if they have appropriate support from City Hall and creating the proper support to develop new entrepreneurs who have viable concepts and the talent to scale their early stage businesses.

Both of these objectives for the missing middle of established businesses can be achieved by creating a comprehensive strategy that strengthens the urban entrepreneur ecosystem in Boston’s economically dispossessed neighborhoods. Start by connecting these neighborhoods to regional, national and international markets. Focus that strategy on established small businesses poised to grow, not solo practitioners or the latest tech gazelle capturing headlines.

A strong new mayor can bring together local banks, private investors, and foundations to create a unique vehicle to make flexible capital available to both the existing and early stage businesses that will create jobs in our most distressed neighborhood. In the struggling Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio, civic leaders have helped guide more than 80 businesses through the popular Youngstown Initiative, providing loans that convert to performance grants.

Our new mayor can support procurement with anchor institutions, corporations and all levels of government. In particular, performance bonds for small and medium enterprises are often a barrier to working with larger institutions. In the United Kingdom, the government Department for Business, Innovation & Skills is investigating an insurance scheme to replace the necessity for performance bonds.

Major corporations invest in the discipline of market research. Giving smaller businesses access to the same type of information will help guide them in important development and investment decisions. The future Mayor can help secure access to this critical market research through our universities or other public policy teams.

And, more than anything, the new mayor can lead by example and show where his priorities are by appointing a cabinet level Department of Small Business. The city currently has a Small & Local Business Enterprise Office which sits apart from the city’s Chief Economic Development Officer, who heads the BRA and is understandably focused mostly on large-scale development.

Robert Walsh, the Commissioner for New York City Small Business Services recently spoke at an Interise event celebrating small businesses across the country that have grown and thrived throughout the recession. He pointed out that Mayor Bloomberg’s innovative small business strategy was acutally ‘made in Boston’, drawing on the expertise at local universities and the Parthenon Group. Next year, we don’t want to have to invite the Commissioner from New York. It’s time for a ‘made in Boston’ small business strategy for Boston.

Our next mayor needs to show the city – the entire city – that he cares about getting jobs in the whole city, not just the Seaport. To do that, the candidates need to offer a specific focus on this established segment of the economy, the place where jobs are created. If he does that, he just might be the next great jobs mayor for our city.

Jean Horstman is CEO of Interise. Glynn Lloyd is CEO of City Fresh Foods in Roxbury.
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