Keeping Kirkand's business prospering at home - and in the home

In October's Kirkland Courier Ellen Miller Wolfe, Kirkland's economic development manager, introduced readers to the Kirkland Business Roundtable. This laudatory effort is bringing together many of our larger and high tech businesses to focus on the challenges and opportunities faced by Kirkland businesses. 

However, we would be remiss if we did not also highlight the cooperative efforts of the chamber and city for the other three-quarters of Kirkland's  3,200 businesses that have five or fewer employees (which includes 1,200-plus home businesses. Specifically, I am referencing the business retention efforts being undertaken by the chamber and the city that benefit all businesses and help support and foster home businesses.

Since 2003, the city and the chamber have collaborated on what was called the Kirkland Economic Partnership. This effort was initiated when the business community agreed to not oppose the city's imposition of a business license fee surcharge which raised $1 million to support the city's efforts to erase its deficit during the economic downturn. Part of the agreement was that $170,000 of the amount raised was to be allocated for recruitment and retention efforts that would be conducted through a team effort led by the chamber and the city.

 With the hiring of Miller Wolfe, the team was able to refocus its attention on business retention. In October, Duncan Milloy was hired as the business retention consultant at the chamber.  Like his predecessor John Overton, he is available to help businesses with issues related to permitting, zoning and other items inherent in doing business in Kirkland. The chamber is delighted with this next step in our community's economic development evolution.

Another important action being taken in our team's retention efforts is the protection of Kirkland's approximately 1,200 home businesses.  We should never forget that Google, and other successful companies,  started from garages and extra bedrooms, so we must be careful to nurture other potential rising stars while maintaining the residential flavor of our neighborhoods.  This is essential because who knows which home business will bring the next great innovation? Home businesses also provide extra income to citizens, and telecommuting minimizes impact on our local infrastructures.

Over the past year the chamber has been giving input to the Kirkland Planning Commission as they review ordinances for home businesses. This review was precipitated by complaints surrounding approximately 17 home businesses that were allegedly jeopardizing the repose of the neighborhoods.  I am happty to report that our suggestions have been carefully considered and we are on the brink of a win-win for both those businesses and their fellow neighbors.  This includes the elimination of an inspection requirement for those under 500 square feet.

And last month, two issues we advocated for home businesses are being considered favorably by the Kirkland City Council.  First, that the fee a home business over 500 square feet would have to pay to be reviewed for compliance with the International Building Code may be reduced from the current fee of more than $3,000 to $1,000.  While cost recovery is essential if a city is to be operated as a business, we feel charging a small home business the same fee as a large business is cost-prohibitive.  Second, we asked that while the limit on the amount of deliveries per week is reasonable, only allowing courier services (Post Office, UPS, FedEx) - while disallowing larger commercial vehicle deliveries to home businesses when they are allowed for residential homes - is inconsistent. We believe that the daily and weekly limit of deliveries will be enough to maintain the residential character we all enjoy. The city council will finalize deliberations on these two items in January.

Let me assure you, however, that our work is not done. Retention of our 3,200 businesses is paramount to the success of our community.  In fact, authorities such as the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) goes as far as to say that our largest efforts should be placed on retaining the businesses that we already have contributing to our city.

 Bill Vadino is the executive director of the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce, or 822-7066.


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