In 2015, Team Tulare was formed to reach out to local business owners in a big way, while helping the economy of Tulare grow. Today, the team is proactive; reaching out to business by walking the streets.
Tulare Chamber of Commerce CEO Ben Brubaker had spent time visiting with other chambers up and down the state, with the intent of learning their practices and outreach programs, he said.
“I started putting it together,” he said.
By putting it together, Brubaker, and staff, reached out to various entities aimed at helping local business, creating Team Tulare which now involves the chamber, Business Finance Center, Small Business Development Center, Tulare Downtown Association and the Workforce Investment Board of Tulare County. The group started meeting and developed a plan for Business Walks to occur each month.
Last month the team held its first walk, visiting 56 businesses in a three-by-three block radius, between J Street and L Street, and Cross Street to Tulare Avenue, to see what issues might be of concern in their locale.
“The purpose of the Business Walks is to increase awareness and improve communications between Team Tulare and its partners, including the City and business owners. Our goal is to identify needs, challenges and opportunities for local businesses and to provide services and resources when necessary,” according to the Team’s report given at a recent City Council meeting.
The first walk consisted of 10 team members from each of the team’s entities. Divided into teams of two, each business representative was asked two key questions:
- What challenges do you face doing business in downtown Tulare?
- How can we help your business succeed?
However, Team members listened to any concerns or issues business owners and managers wanted to share, Brubaker said.
In its report, business owners and managers expressed concerns centered on safety and the homeless community, as well as the transit center, destruction of property, and sanitation and trash.
A summary of input and requests included:
- Businesses willingly provided input on issues surrounding overall unsafe feeling of customers, staff and owners – “We are moving,” “Theft is rampant”.
- Other concerns included the transit center, property owners’ lack of care, communication with the city, and dumpster issues.
- Businesses were appreciative of the visit and for information on the upcoming Business Safety Meeting.
More specifically some business owners expressed concerns of safety with regard to aggressive panhandlers. Some went so far as to say they have to keep their doors locked during the day. Others commented on the homeless community sleeping and using local outside areas, such as planters, for restrooms. These concerns all wrapped around being detrimental for business.
The Team arranged for a meeting to be held between concerned business owners and/or managers and the Tulare Police Department, including its chief, to address these matters. This meeting went beyond the TPD regular Business Watch meetings to help the TPD understand general and specific issues to the specific areas involved, and to help business owners understand TPD roles in assisting them.
Outside of the newly formed Team Tulare, it is and has been part of Julie Franco’s job as TPD community service officer to reach out to businesses and hold regular Business Watch meetings, she said.
For her regular Business Watch meetings, only businesses she has reached out to and been in contact with are invited, she said. However, any business owner is welcome to contact her regarding non-urgent matters.
State Farm agent Renee Soto was one of the 56 businesses visited on Team Tulare’s first walk.
“I support it,” she said. “If the chamber is hearing the voice of the business owner, that’s a very good thing.”
Soto also happens to sit on the chamber board and was planning to walk in the May Business Walk.
“I want to be a part of it,” she said.
“We are definitely seeing our struggles down here,” she added, referring to the downtown corridor.
But the Business Walk is not aimed just at downtown. The May walk is taking them to South K Street and future walks involve a variety of areas throughout town, Brubaker said.
Different walks will be centered on different topics, but business owners are welcome to bring up anything that concerns them and their business.
“There may be issues that no one was really aware of and that we can help solve,” Brubaker said.
“This [Team Tulare] is along the lines in keeping business and improving business already here,” he said.
Although potentially new business owners are also welcome to get involved.