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Greater Greater Washington: Here’s how DC wants to help small businesses open | August 10, 2017

As DC continues to draw new residents, the growth of the federal workforce is slowing down. Other sectors, like small business, have a huge opportunity to play an important role in the District economy.

To learn about why small businesses are important and the role they play in economic development, Matt Gontarchick sat down with Kate Mereand-Sinha, Program Manager for Technology and Innovation at the District Department of Small and Local Business Development. They discussed how one goes about starting a business, the various types of businesses out there, the challenges small business owners face, and what the future for small businesses in the District might look like. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Here’s how you start a (brick-and-mortar) business in DC

Matt:  What kind of reputation does Washington, DC have right now as a place for small businesses?

Kate: I think that that varies greatly across groups.  A lot of the overall economy for DC has had a reputation of being very tied to the federal level, so some people don’t even think about small businesses, including some people who live here.  However, once you start digging down into people who are paying attention to small business, there are a lot of people who are very excited about the District being the District.

Matt: How exactly does someone go about starting a small business in Washington, DC?

Kate: The first thing that someone has to do is come up with a sustainable revenue model, so they have to think about an idea, test an idea, and then they actually have to have it function.  That in some sense is the hardest part of entrepreneurship anyway, which is just getting a business idea that’s going to stick and that’s going to work.  Getting down into the more granular details, including the legal structure and the licensure structure, there are five basic steps you can find on business.dc.gov.

Matt: What are some of the different kinds of challenges [brick-and-mortar] small businesses might face as opposed to others?

Kate: One that people talk about a lot would be restaurants – they probably need to do additional build-out, which means they have to go through the permitting system separately from how they’re doing their business, and if there are any delays in that, and frequently there are when it comes to zoning, so they have to be able to manage the cost before they open and start making money.

You see a similar thing with daycares.  We just finished a report done by a public health group out of American University, with a number of students looking at the cost of daycare and why the cost of daycare is so high and if there’s a way to bring that down because with daycare providers. Even if the cost is very high for the consumer, they’re not paying their workers much because they’re not making very much money because these structural costs for these businesses are very high.  They have the same licensing questions as restaurants, and the other thing that happens in terms of rent negotiations is that it’s much harder to negotiate a lower rent if you have less ability to move.

High rents are just one challenge facing small businesses

Matt: Do you have any thoughts on how the District could address commercial rent affordability?

Katie: Whenever you talk about affordable housing, affordable commercial space needs to be discussed in tandem, and the reason for that is if you have an affordable space for someone to live, they need an affordable space in which they can either work or they can go buy things.

For instance, you need a grocery store nearby that has similar availability so that you can get to the right costs.  So, people are looking at how do they develop grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8, and making sure that they can keep the costs of produce and other things down well enough so that people that live there can actually afford to shop there – and it’s not just food; that’s the most critical.

But, almost anything that you see in a brick and mortar – if their rent costs are that high, then their other costs are going to go up, and then the local community can’t afford to purchase from them. And the same thing if the only businesses that come into that space are national chains because they’re the only ones that can pay the rent, then people can’t shop local, support local, and support keeping the overall profits in their community.  And one of the things that we hear from a lot of the community members is that they want to be able to support their own local economy and support that money coming back into their communities.

Matt: We’re a very diverse city, but there are extremely high levels of inequality here.  How might inequality affect small businesses, and what might be done to improve equity or help some disadvantaged populations get involved in small business or entrepreneurship?

Katie: So, we have a number of programs that we are starting in pilot mode.  We hope that those pilots would be able to become not-pilots and smooth out across the board in both workforce and other programs.  One of our pilots is working with returning citizens – those are people that have criminal records.

The last count that I saw, which is years old, is that there are at least 60,000 returning citizens in the District, which is one-tenth of the population.  The estimate that we have hear from CSOSA, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, is that half of returning citizens are unemployed or unable to maintain steady work, which has a huge impact on recidivism, and so figuring out ways to support those individuals into entrepreneurship. And as we do that, that population has indicated that they want to hire other returning citizens. Supporting development of these businesses also supports other people coming in, so our program uses workforce dollars and pays them a stipend while they do business development support.

We’re taking that same idea and working with the Summer Youth Employment Program, which has thousands of youth ages 14 through 24 go into work placements across the summer.e’re going to extend that to 12 weeks, and we’re going to include placement within tech and coworking companies as well.

What the future looks like for small businesses

Matt: What kinds of small businesses does the District need most, or would like to see more of?

Katie: The spaces that we think a lot about are neighborhoods where retail corridors are not as developed. There are several food deserts across the District, and being able to make sure that people can actually access food if they have to walk to it.Without a retail sector or space [nearby], it can be hard to get a hold of things like diapers and basic toiletries, and so some people will drive farther out, and when you can’t drive, then you are relying on very small corner stores that often don’t have the full selection that you’re looking for.

Matt: What have you heard from small business owners as specific things that they need help with, or things that they would like to see the District do?

Katie: I think it’s slightly different for stage of business and it’s slightly different for type of business, so we’ll start with a lot of start-ups.It appears that a lot of start-ups just need more business development, business planning, support and training, or that cohort model, or something else. Someone to spend more time with them as they’re developing their business idea, whether that’s provided by the District or private organization. It doesn’t really matter, they just need to be able to find and afford those options to get more intensive business development support.  Access to capital support is the hardest question for all businesses.

POLITICO Influence: Chamber Hill Adds Weinstein | August 2, 2017

CHAMBER HILL ADDS WEINSTEIN: Anna Weinstein has left the Podesta Group for Chamber Hill Strategies, where she’ll be a principal. Her clients at Podesta included the American Health Care Association, BMO Financial and Mylan, the pharmaceutical company, as a subcontractor to Hogan Lovells. Before joining Podesta, she worked as a lobbyist for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

The Hill: Lobbying World | August 1, 2017

Melissa Bartlett, a former lobbyist for Sanofi, has left the biotech company to join the lobbying firm Chamber Hill Strategies. Her résumé also includes working at Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) and time on Capitol Hill as GOP counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

POLITICO Influence | July 25, 2017

Chamber Hill Strategies is bringing on Melissa Bartlett as a principal. She was previously associate vice president for government relations at Sanofi.

Medspace: Hospitalists on Healthcare: ‘Politicians Can’t Fix This’ | May 6, 2017

By Marcia Frellick

The AHCA bill, in its current form, won’t become law, said Jennifer Bell, founding partner of Chamber Hill Strategies in Washington, DC, and lobbyist on the Hill for the Society of Hospital Medicine.

“I’m a longtime Republican, I’m a Republican lobbyist, so what you’re hearing from me is stark reality,” she said. “This bill is going nowhere. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has already said he will not bring this bill to a vote.”

Her personal affiliation does not affect her lobbying for the society, she emphasized, which is nonpartisan.

Hospitalists are very concerned about the aspects of the bill that will likely reduce insurance coverage, particularly the ban on further Medicaid expansion, because fewer patients will seek the care they need, Bell told Medscape Medical News.

“The American Health Care Act is about repealing Medicaid expansion more than anything else,” she pointed out. But the bill goes beyond expansion to promote Medicaid reform, and many senators are not convinced this is the time to do that, she added.

Far more children are covered by Medicaid than by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), “so changes at the state level to Medicaid are quite serious,” she explained.

The Hill: Healthcare Groups Unload on GOP Bill | March 9, 2017

By Megan R. Wilson

But the lobbying right now is primarily focused on the House, said Jennifer Bell, the co-founder of Chamber Hill Strategies, who has worked for Republicans on both health and tax-writing committees.

“The next two weeks or three weeks is make or break. If it passes the House, how it passes can be very indicative of what a strategy might be in the Senate,” she said.

The Wheaton Record: Inside D.C.: Alumni Perspectives | January 26, 2017

By Sarah Holcomb

The Lobbyist

When she arrived in D.C., Jennifer Bell ‘93 was a 29-year-old speech pathologist — an outsider. Her class schedule, like Noetzel’s, never included a political science course. Her major: French.

Moving to Washington with her husband, a fellow Wheaton grad, Bell found a part-time job at a local hospital and decided to intern at Congress at the same time. That decision launched her 15-year journey through the world of public policy, which would reinvent her career, eventually leading her to co-found her own healthcare-focused lobbying firm.

As she ushered us through her home into an airy room decorated with white linen, the house seemed to stand worlds away from the buzzing streets of downtown Washington. Yet Capitol Hill is a better reflection of Bell’s mission than the quiet, wooded hill where her house sits. Bell loves the way that Washington is “concentrated” with ambitious people — go-getters gathered from around the country and the world.

Washington D.C. is a company town, Bell said — only the “company” is the federal government.

Bell’s lack of experience and “preconceived ideas” about policy making allowed her to stand out in the world of Washington, which focused on ideology. Unlike many of her colleagues developing healthcare legislation, Bell possessed a rare perspective: that of a “real person that had a real job.”

“I understand the practical implications of some of the laws we were trying to change,” she told us. That knowledge helps her to address the various needs of her clients, who include organizations like hospitals, associations of doctors and companies or CEOs.

Today, as a professional who works on behalf of clientele largely outside of the political hub, it isn’t surprising that Bell supports “outsiders” who seek to renovate Washington. It’s one reason why she supported President Trump early in the primary season when most of her colleagues did not.

“I live here and work here, but I love disruption,” she said. “I think this is a town that’s too static in its patterns.” Bell noted that her perspective reflects that of her home state, Vermont, whose suspicious and self-reliant attitude caused it to refuse to join the 13 colonies until later when it became the 14th state. “I kind of like the idea that there will be this dynamite thrown in there,” she said of the new administration.

Nevertheless, it’s “good to have a mix” of experienced politicians and newcomers, Bell added. “There’s a lot of expertise in Washington that kind of stays here.”

Learning and practicing integrity is critical in D.C., Bell said. “You can build it over time and destroy it really fast.” She stressed the need for Christians in Washington to exercise honesty and consideration. “You can have strong opinions, but do your research and take someone else’s perspective,” she said. “Try to understand what they think and build relationships.”

The Wheaton Record: Obamacare Repeal and Replacement, Explained | January 24, 2017

By Kelsey Plankeel

Price transparency would mandate that healthcare providers — such as physicians and clinics — display prices for services. Presumably, if consumers know how expensive a procedure or service is, and have to pay for that service out of their own pocket, then they may choose a less expensive option.  This would mirror the ACA’s requirement that certain restaurants post calorie counts next to menu items. Jennifer Bell, a healthcare lobbyist in the D.C. area, said she is unsure as to whether Americans will “ever get to the point where cheaper feels better overall.” She said that while cheaper options are adequate, if a loved one gets ill, family members often opt for a more expensive option, which is often perceived as higher quality.

This could take years, according to Bell. Additionally, insurance companies — who are at the frontline of implementing new healthcare rules — need at least 18 months to receive final rules, develop and approve bids and offer the plans to consumers. With no current replacement plan in motion, it could be at least two years before a new healthcare system is activated. The long-term process of healthcare implementation is exemplified by Obamacare, for which full implementation will not be completed until 2022.

According to Bell, one difference between Democrats and Republicans in healthcare policy making is that “Democrats tend to want to dictate very specifically what should happen; they don’t want to leave any room for chance. Republicans are more into flexibility and optionality as long as you meet certain standards.” She noted that this — the strict interpretation of law — was a factor in the Wheaton College v. Burwell case in 2015.