OGDEN — Entrepreneurs, maintains Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer, have a special place in a community.
He was at the Queen Bee, which sells chocolates, games, gift cards and more, as part of a tour of downtown Ogden businesses this week. “Small business,” he said, “is the heart of our economy.”
Later, at Kaffe Mercantile on Washington Boulevard, Froerer asked Kye Hallows, one of the managers of the coffee shop, how county government and county policies help or hurt the business. “We want to make sure you know government is here representing small business,” Froerer said.
Froerer, County Commissioner Jim Harvey and Holin Wilbanks, the county’s economic development director, visited Queen Bee, Kaffe Mercantile and two other local businesses on Wednesday, part of a new initiative aimed at getting them inside businesses across Weber County. It’s not about idle chitchat, though. Rather, the aim is to engage with local business operators, hear their concerns, foster a relationship and encourage them to contact county leaders with their concerns.
“We’re a boots-on-the-ground commission,” said Harvey, driving from one stop to another. “The way to do it is right at the grassroots, get to the businesses. ... That’s where you learn, talking to people.”
Commissioners have put a renewed emphasis on economic development and promoting business growth. Notably, they’re in the process of creating a joint economic development body with Davis County, meant to represent the two-county zone in drawing in businesses. But working with the businesses already here in Weber County and promoting growth in their ranks, too, is important.
“This is part of our overall retention plan,” Wilbanks said. If existing businesses grow, expand, hire new workers, that, too, has a big impact in economic growth.
The county outreach effort started late last year with the Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce‘s #ShopWeber Giveaway initiative, meant to spur Christmastime shopping at local businesses. County involvement in that initiative spurred leaders to keep up the involvement with local businesses, and the goal is to visit different businesses around Weber County each quarter.
“Really let them know they have a direct link to policy makers who may have an impact on their business,” Froerer said. “How can we make sure they’re successful in their business?”
On Wednesday, officials also visited Daily Rise Coffee and Bingham Cyclery, both on Washington Boulevard in Ogden. In future tours, they aim to spread out across the county and visit all sorts of businesses.
‘HAPPY TO LISTEN’
During the stops, Froerer would mention his own business roots, as owner for Froerer Real Estate, an Ogden property management company, and he spoke fondly of entrepreneurs. At Kaffe Mercantile, which also houses an eatery, the Lavender Kitchen, he noted what he says is a resurgence of business operators along the street.
“It’s great to see some of them coming back to Washington Boulevard, like when I was a kid,” he said. “You have your own business, you’re your own boss.”
The comments from the business operators they visited varied.
Robyn Stark, owner of the Queen Bee, lamented the bite taxes can take out of earnings, though she didn’t point specific blame anywhere. She also noted the spirit of camaraderie among 25th Street business operators and the willingness to help each other.
“They want you to succeed, so they help you,” Stark said.
Hallows said the recent partial government shutdown had a wide-ranging impact in Ogden. “It’s not just the food industry. Every type of business is feeling the effects of it,” Hallows said.
At Bingham Cyclery, Ty Hansen, the store manager, praised the many trails criss-crossing the county. “The more trails, the more people we see riding. It’s good for us,” he said.
Froerer, a former member of the Utah House, mentioned that in crafting roads bills while in the Legislature, he would press for wider roads, mindful of the import of the extra space in keeping cyclists safe, even if it’s just 18 inches.
“We just want to make sure we set up communication. Anything we can deal with, we’re happy to listen,” he said.