Washington State University President Kirk Schulz is urging all WSU employees to shop local and support local businesses struggling with worsening financial hardship during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The health of our business community is central to the health of our community overall,” said Schulz, who along with WSU’s first lady, Noel Schulz, has been making it a priority to support Pullman businesses over the past several months. “We keep hearing that many of our business owners have reached a critical point and are having to decide whether they can continue to try finding ways to hang on or cut their mounting financial losses and close permanently.”
A vibrant and welcoming community is key to the overall college experience. Schulz, along with others, worry that continued business closures not only harm the livelihoods of friends and neighbors who own, operate or work at the companies but of the WSU system overall as prospective students and university employees evaluate where they choose to live, study and work.
Pullman, in particular, has been hit hard.
WSU students typically account for nearly 60% of the city’s total population and with most instruction moving to a remote, virtual model the traditional influx has fallen far short of normal. Additionally, many of the signature events that draw thousands of visitors to town each semester and that Pullman business owners have come to rely on such as home football games, commencement and other annual gatherings have been canceled due to public health mandates.
The pandemic has been a triple whammy for Pullman’s economy. A concerted effort by the university’s approximately 5,700 full- and part-time Pullman campus employees to shop local could help local businesses hang on long enough to get through the worst of the pandemic.
Although not as potentially dramatic, similar efforts by the nearly 2,500 employees elsewhere throughout the WSU system of campuses, research centers, Extension offices and other physical facilities could help their communities as well.
“It’s easy to say we love our community but every once in a while, we really have to step up big and show action to those words and now is one of those biggest times,” said Brandon Chapman, a Pullman City Council member and WSU employee. “It’s vital that we help our community by shopping locally because it does way more than just help that individual business owner; it keeps the money in our city and contributes to all the services that we come to rely on and aid in our quality of life.”
The WSU system has a long tradition of supporting business and community development throughout the state.
Washington Small Business Development Center
A publicly-funded network of nearly 35 business advisors who provide free one-on-one counseling and other services to small business owners statewide, the Washington Small Business Development Center has been a program of Washington State University since 1980. It is operated under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“When small businesses succeed, local communities thrive,” said Duane Fladland, state director of the Washington SBDC.
Nearly 1.4 million people in this state are employed by a small business, Fladland said, and those small businesses are critical to creating a sense of place and community. “Small business owners in every community are the first to offer help when a community need arises,” Fladland said, “so it’s gratifying to see people step up to help the small business community.”
Carson College of Business
Two programs designed to help business owners and entrepreneurs are offered free of charge through WSU’s Carson College of Business.
- Carson Business Solutions pairs teams of WSU business students with small companies for 13 weeks of free, confidential consulting. Launched this fall, it is open to small businesses and nonprofits across Washington. “The program is a free resource helping them address challenges, develop new opportunities, and drive business innovation,” says Garth Mader, director. “For students, we offer the opportunity of working with a real business on timely issues.” Contact Garth Mader at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Business Growth Mentor and Analysis Program at WSU Vancouver contributes to regional economic development by helping small businesses and nonprofits grow and succeed while providing educational opportunities for Carson College of Business students. The program is comprised of a pro-bono student consultancy and a monthly small business forum. The program is confidential and provides more than 500 hours of free consulting services to qualifying businesses. Additionally, the Business Growth MAP Alliance invites local business owners to come together to learn about best practices and engage in conversation on topics important to growth and success. Attendees gain valuable insight from local experts and WSU faculty. Contact Nolan Yaws-Gonzalez, senior manager, at email@example.com.
WSU Metro Center
Other partnerships and community development programs are underway throughout the university system as well, including an effort by the WSU Metropolitan Center for Applied Research and Extension to help a northwest Washington town’s business district recover from pandemic shutdowns.
Based on the Everett campus, the Metro Center has been contracted by the small Snohomish County community of Arlington to help its business community recover from the financial hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the first steps was to develop an online marketplace for Arlington businesses, particularly those that hadn’t yet embraced e-commerce opportunities.
The Metro Center was created to strengthen the connections between WSU and Washington’s cities. It draws on the expertise from throughout the WSU system, including Extension offices and research stations in support of its municipal clients.