Opening a small business is no easy feat. Choosing a good location, having the appropriate resources, and finding ways to build a customer base are all very important. In an effort to boost small business growth, the city of Fontana launched “Open for Business” in 2011 to help local businesses and other organizations showcase products, services and job skills training.

Since 2000, Fontana survived two recessions while growing by more than 15 percent. Even with this growth, city leaders knew that local sales dollars were being lost as residents shopped dined and worked in neighboring cities. As a result, only one-half of Fontana’s small businesses survived five years.

Many small, local businesses and educational organizations lack the resources or budget to effectively advertise their goods and services. Additionally, as they begin, these businesses are also competing with larger, well-established franchises with national marketing.

Finding qualified applicants is also challenging for small businesses, especially for industrial and technical jobs that require a specialized skill set. Sixty-seven percent of Fontana residents identify as Hispanic or Latino ancestry and 15 percent of residents live below the state poverty level. The unemployment rate is 9 percent (compared to 7 percent statewide) and only 15 percent of residents older than age 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Despite these figures, Fontana has a high number of small businesses in the community with 63 percent owned by minorities. These businesses however, need employees who have special training or specific skills.

After taking a detailed inventory of city resources and partnerships, city leaders developed a platform to share information about Fontana’s small business products, services, job opportunities, and training called “Open for Business.” Founded and hosted by Mayor Acquanetta Warren, the show is a series of video interviews highlighting Fontana businesses and other organizations to showcase helpful information about jobs, job training and local businesses. The free publicity helps promote local businesses.

Mayor Warren conducts 10 to 15 minute interviews of the featured guest or business owner. Videos show the business site and the history of the business. The show is then distributed to the city’s Facebook page,website, KFON-TV YouTube channel and featured on the KFON-TV network channel, airing three times per week. KFON-TV, Fontana’s community television station, reaches from Diamond Bar to San Bernardino.

Through these channels, featured businesses reach an audience beyond Fontana’s city limits. Fontana Chamber of Commerce (comprising more than 400 members) also provides a link to “Open for Business” on their website and businesses receive a copy of the interview to upload to their own Facebook Page, company website, or to assist with their own marketing efforts.

Cardenas Market is a business featured on “Open for Business.” With three locations in Fontana providing a fresh selection of produce and unique grocery items, Cardena Market is a community institution. The business contributes more than $500,000 in scholarships and participates in community events including health screenings and voter registration. The market has formed partnerships with community nonprofits to help the homeless and sponsor youth groups. Knowing about this business’ products in addition to its community involvement can encourage residents to support a local business and keep community dollars local.

“Open for Business” also highlights educational sources and job training opportunities. Chaffey College and Westech College, both located within the city, have been featured on the show explaining the special job training classes they have available on their campuses. With a variety of classes available, including specialized classes on the evolving technical skills needed in today’s job market such as veterinary assistant, medical office administration, medical assisting, computerized office administration, and fitness training, both colleges offer the necessary skills to succeed in the business market.

Since launching, more than 60 interviews have been featured on “Open for Business,” including 54 businesses, two colleges, and eight city department agencies. Some businesses have voiced an increase in foot traffic and revenue after their video aired. One example is My NY (New York) Pizza, co-owned by Betty Torres and her husband, featured in February 2012.

The video program now also features local organizations and their individual departments to explain some of the services available to new business owners and residents who need assistance. San Bernardino County did an interview to spotlight individual departments that offer business relations services and provide information on how residents can qualify for financial assistance such as WIC, Veteran’s Affairs, Child and Family Services, and more.

The Fontana Chamber of Commerce also partners with the city to motivate business owners to join the Chamber and develop networking strategies with other members. An invitation is extended to each new business owner as they acquire a business license to inform them of the city services available.

The city is seeing an increase in residents inquiring about small business opportunities thanks to the exposure from “Open for Business.” The city is confident this outlet will continue to serve as an important vehicle for promoting economic development by creating awareness of local businesses, job opportunities, and other resources for residents.

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Originally posted at the League of California Cities.