We look at 3 new programs that create affordable space for local businesses. Plus, the relationship between stagnant wages and monopoly.
The Hometown Advantage Bulletin
In Cities Around the Country, New Action on Commercial Affordability
Olivia LaVecchia  |  March 27, 2018

Image: Development rendering.In many U.S. cities, finding and keeping an affordable space has become a major challenge for independent businesses, as factors like real estate financing that favors chains and a declining supply of small spaces are driving up the cost of rent. Now, cities are beginning to find ways that public policy can support a built environment that includes affordable commercial space. There's a new strategy that's starting to catch on: Set-asides for local businesses in new development.

In three cities, programs are developing that offer examples for how set-asides can work. In Portland, Ore., for instance, the city's Affordable Commercial Tenanting Program leases space at three locations to businesses that are owned by underrepresented groups and that meet needs that the neighborhood has identified — and sets the rents at below market-rate. The program is part of advancing "our goal to build an equitable economy," the city explains.

Here's a look at the three new programs — and what they say about how cities are recognizing the importance of locally owned businesses to their neighborhoods and their broader goals.  Continue Reading
Why Aren't Wages Rising? The Answer Sounds A Lot Like Monopoly
March 22, 2018

Photo: Marshall Steinbaum.If unemployment is so low, why aren’t workers seeing their wages increase? That's the question that economist Marshall Steinbaum, our guest in this week's episode of our Building Local Power podcast, has been trying to answer. In a new study, which was recently featured in the New York Times, Steinbaum and his co-authors link stagnant wages with the fact that most local labor markets are highly concentrated. When there are just a few companies hiring, those companies have the power to set wages below what people would earn in a more competitive labor market.

Steinbaum, who's Research Director at the Roosevelt Institute, joins ILSR's Stacy Mitchell to discuss his research — and how elected officials can take steps to fix the labor market.  Listen to the Episode

If you enjoy these conversations, make sure that you don't miss an episode — and help us reach more people — by subscribing in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. 

In Case You Missed It
  • Our cover story on Amazon in The Nation has drawn a wide response, including from a letter-writer who says, "The article offers some hope that anti-monopolist sentiments may be rising."
  • And in a companion piece for The Nation, we offer six strategies to rein in today's monopolies. We especially like the sixth option on this list, which looks at anti-monopoly policies that communities can pass at the local level, from municipal broadband networks to formula business policies. "It's possible to trace the broad outlines of an anti-monopoly movement," the piece concludes, "one whose geography, it's worth noting, suggests a latent potential to rearrange America's divided electoral map."
  • Our Amazon's Stranglehold report has been translated and distributed in France by Le Syndicat de la Librairie Française.

News Stories We’re Following
  • Why are independent toy stores outliving Toys R Us? They do things that chains and Amazon can't, reports the Associated Press. "There's the wow factor."
  • As chain stores continue to expand in cities, some places are taking steps to regulate their spread.
  • Big-box retailers are bringing their "dark store" strategy to Kansas, where their appeals are forcing towns to slash their property tax bills — and crippling local budgets.
  • As independent pharmacies get squeezed by the powerful middlemen known as PBMs, a new law in Arkansas offers an example of how to regulate them.
  • In rural America, disappearing community banks are leaving local businesses without capital and triggering a downward spiral.
  • Meanwhile, a government report finds that chicken farmers are so tightly controlled by big poultry companies that they're not really small businesses — and nearly $2 billion in Small Business Administration loans to the farmers may have broken SBA rules.
  • As the Justice Department and AT&T face off in "one of the most closely watched antitrust trials in decades," here's a guide to what to watch for.
  • Amazon still isn't required to collect local sales taxes in some cities. "Why should local businesses be at a disadvantage against a much larger, out-of-town rival?”
  • Amazon paid zero federal income taxes in 2017, on profits of nearly $6 billion. The typical effective rate for a local retailer, meanwhile, is around 25 percent.
  • As public concerns mount about the power of Amazon, Facebook, and Google, the companies’ favorability ratings are dropping.
  • With the movement to reinvigorate anti-monopoly policy in the U.S. growing, Lina Khan of the Open Markets Institute offers an outline of some of its core tenets.

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