Business

Make it simpler to begin and develop a enterprise


Downtown offers unparalleled benefits to a wide range of businesses. Yet the complexity, time and, effort required to launch a new venture or move into a new space can be a significant barrier to small and large businesses – particularly those that may lack extensive resources to help them navigate the permit process. By creating transparency, streamlining processes, and proactively building out systems to support new enterprises, we can fill vacancies more quickly while removing barriers for small, independent, and local businesses. Simplified permitting also helps to attract a more diverse mix of uses – from a wider range of office tenants as well as arts, entertainment, and other commercial users – that collectively enhance San Francisco’s identity and cultural draw.

 

  • Provide grants, loans and trainings for new and existing small businesses to thrive and grow Downtown. 

  • Extended the First Year Free program to reduce permit costs for new business ventures. 

  • Right-size local employer healthcare contributions under the Health Care Security Ordinance (HCSO) to provide adequate healthcare funding while supporting San Francisco businesses. 

  • Connect new businesses, artists, and events with ground floor vacancies and provide targeted support through the Vacant to Vibrant program. 

  • Build on the success of the Save Our Small Business Initiative and Small Business Recovery Act to deliver smoother business permitting.

   

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Direct business recovery assistance

OEWD is building on the more than $83 million that were invested in grants and loans for small businesses over the course of the pandemic  with new and ongoing direct assistance programs.  

  • The Storefront Opportunity Grant program is available to help fill empty storefronts by providing entrepreneurs technical assistance and funding to secure new commercial leases. Eligible small businesses may receive up to $25,000 for a first storefront location or up to $50,000 to expand to an additional location. Small businesses in neighborhoods that have experienced slower economic recovery or serve low to moderate income neighborhoods can receive training and assistance on how to secure leases with favorable terms.    

  • The Business Training Grant program supports an equitable economic recovery by providing new and existing entrepreneurs training to remain successful and profitable as well as $5,000 to $50,000 in grants to support business growth and development.

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First Year Free

The Mayor’s 2023-24 budget extended the  First Year Free program that waives permit fees for new businesses in their first year and has waived more than $2.38 million for nearly 4,000 small businesses since 2021.

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Right-sized local employer healthcare contributions

The Health Care Security Ordinance (HCSO) requires businesses to pay into a fund held by the City in order to offer important health care coverage to part-time, temporary, and other employees who do not receive full benefits from their employers. However, the program adds a significant expense to the cost of doing business in San Francisco.  As the program is currently designed, employers pay more into the program than employees end up using, generating a balance.

  • To right-size the program and employer contributions, Mayor Breed is exploring a one-year reduction in the rates that employers need to pay into the system. This reduction would give immediate relief to San Francisco based businesses while preserving the existing level of healthcare services for employees.

  • The Mayor has further directed the Department of Public Health, in coordination with the Controller’s office, to identify additional long-term strategies to ensure the system effectively meets its original goals of providing workers with healthcare while supporting San Francisco businesses.

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Vacant to Vibrant

OEWD, in partnership with non-profit SF New Deal, has launched Vacant to Vibrant, a new program to match pop-up ventures – prioritizing small, local, and underrepresented ventures – with owners of vacant spaces in Downtown. This program is providing ground floor spaces rent-free for short term activations of three to six months with the option to extend, along with technical assistance in navigating leasing and permitting processes and micro-grants to support start-up costs.

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Smoother business permitting

Opening and operating a small business must be simplified so entrepreneurs can focus on running their business and making a living, not navigating the complexities of City Hall. The Office of Small Business, one-stop Permit Center, and partner City agencies are working to build on Mayoral initiatives like the 2020 Save Our Small Businesses initiative (Proposition H), which streamlined the permitting process for neighborhood storefront businesses and guaranteed a 30-day approval timeline for business permits and the Small Business Recovery Act (SBRA), which has allowed many businesses to now be instantly approved “over the counter,” without neighborhood notification requirements for most changes to storefront businesses, shaving months off of the permitting timeline.

  • In June 2023, Mayor Breed introduced legislation to simplify small business permitting to encourage economic growth and address commercial vacancies. The proposal principally permits a wider and more flexible variety of business types so they can open or expand into new ground floor spaces quickly.

  • City departments are working together to leverage the Permit Center to further improve the customer service experience for business owners by simplifying and modernizing the application process, such as the recent change to remove a requirement for costly architectural drawings for certain minor permits for small businesses.

  • In March 2023, the Permit Center launched a pilot program to digitize the permit application and review process for some of the most common permits required by new businesses, reducing the need for business owners to submit applications and supporting materials in-person.

  • In coordination with the Office of Small Business, permitting agencies that require inspections prior to permit issuance are developing a simplified checklist that their staff will use during inspections. By identifying clear expectations that allow business owners to prepare their businesses for an inspection, the City aims to reduce the need for repeat inspections and increase the speed of opening a business.

 

See other economic recovery strategies

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