116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Astig Planning is working to identify barriers and explore potential solutions for business owners in Johnson County who have been historically underrepresented.
Astig Planning, a community and environmental planning firm in Iowa City, is in the beginning stages of developing its Inclusive Economic Development Plan. The firm has created a multilingual online survey aimed at finding out what business resources are out there already, what barriers people have experienced and what assistance is needed.
Organizers will hear from residents, as well as collect data, to get a clearer picture of both barriers and resources for “underestimated community members” who own or are interested in starting a business in the county.
Underestimated community members include Black, Latino, Asian American, immigrants, and formerly incarcerated individuals, among others who have been historically underrepresented.
V Fixmer-Oraiz, founder and CEO of Astig Planning, said part of the reason why now is a good time to start this initiative is because cities and Johnson County are in the process of deciding how to allocate their pandemic relief dollars.
“It was kind of in light of a lot of this money coming in, making sure that there's a plan to help inform how it's being spent,” Fixmer-Oraiz said.
Another reason, Fixmer-Oraiz said, is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“People are at different places, and so I think that's another reason why this is an ideal time is because cities are trying to understand (and) the county is trying to understand how are people doing,” Fixmer-Oraiz said.
Fixmer-Oraiz also helped co-found Racial Equity Connect, a group aimed at addressing racial equity and inclusive economic development in the county.
The plan is funded by the Iowa City Area Development Group and GreenState Credit Union. Iowa City Area Business Partnership also has been collaborating with the team.
Fixmer-Oraiz said some of the questions in the survey ask about impacts from the pandemic, if the business owner received financial assistance during the pandemic and other questions to learn more about how individuals were impacted, as well as their experiences.
Underestimated community members who are business owners or working on opening their own business are encouraged to respond. Support institutions, such as business partnerships, local governments, banks and lending institutions, are also encouraged to respond to the survey.
Fixmer-Oraiz said another important piece of this will be to build trust between banking institutions and underestimated community members.
Astig Planning is also asking community members to share their experiences anonymously through an open forum on the website. Fixmer-Oraiz said the submissions so far have centered on lack of access.
One anonymous respondent said, “I’m a general contractor who has worked here in the Eastern Iowa Corridor for well over 20 years. I have not received any help or support from any banks or financial Institutions in this area. No one will give me a loan and probably never will."
There also will be opportunities to participate in interviews, meetings and focus groups with the overall goal to impact policy with the information and data gathered, Fixmer-Oraiz said.
“I want people to be really imaginative and try to break free of the business as usual mentality,” Fixmer-Oraiz added.
The survey and more information on the Inclusive Economic Development Plan can be found at astigplanning.com.
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